I also worry when my noble friend Lord Faulkner says that there have been only two or three of these cases in the past goodness knows how long, because once people discover that there is this rather arcane procedure, a lot of people might try to use it. That is not a reason for not having it but it is a reason for considering whether one needs it, the scope it should have and how long it should last. I have tabled my amendment in conjunction with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, to test the waters and probe. We have had a good debate and it will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say in response.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for the amendments they have tabled, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Greenway, Lord Jenkin and Lord Berkeley, for setting out their proposed amendments to Clause 22. Questions have been raised about the Government’s position in putting forward Clause 22. It may be helpful if I first set out the issues that the Government are trying to address through this clause.

Clause 22 amends the provisions in the Planning Act 2008 which set out when special parliamentary procedure will apply to a development consent order

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which authorises the acquisition of specially protected land. It also repeals the separate certification process required in certain cases. The Planning Act 2008 brought together a range of different consent regimes for nationally significant infrastructure into a single development consent order. The overall aim of this regime is to provide a more efficient and quicker consenting regime for very large infrastructure projects. Development consent orders can include authorisation for the compulsory acquisition of land, but when certain categories of specially protected land are acquired, special parliamentary procedure can be triggered. The decision by the Secretary of State that such land is to be compulsorily acquired is then transferred to a Joint Committee of Parliament for confirmation. While the special parliamentary procedure is undertaken, the development consent cannot come into effect and work on the infrastructure project cannot start.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about the reasoning behind such measures. Delays to infrastructure projects can have a significant knock-on impact in delaying benefits to the local and, indeed, national economy. In the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, referred—the Rookery South project in which he was involved—the special parliamentary procedure was triggered for an infrastructure project under the Planning Act. The special parliamentary procedure added more than a year to the consent process. I understand that during this period no work was possible on the project, delaying the creation of up to 300 construction jobs and 80 permanent jobs that would have resulted when the project was up and running.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Has he any estimate of how long it would have taken if the decision had been taken by the Secretary of State and been subjected to judicial review, which was the alternative to the SPP?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: That would be speculating but I will come to the specific issue of judicial review in a moment and perhaps address the question at that time.

In more general terms, there is also the strong argument that has been made about the threat of delay, for whatever reason, impacting on the confidence of investors and developers. We are, after all, looking at infrastructure which is supporting the economic growth of our country. In total, new infrastructure creates thousands of new jobs and billions of pounds of new investment, as we all know. Consents for such infrastructure must be provided as quickly and efficiently as possible. We cannot afford to lose those jobs and investment because of delays in finalising consents.

The Government are committed to reform of the SPP and want to ensure that in future SPP is used only in cases where there is a genuine need for further scrutiny by Parliament of a particular ministerial decision. We therefore consider that SPP under the Planning Act should be limited to cases where there is a need for further scrutiny, as I have said. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin rightly said, it should be invoked where there is a real need for further scrutiny based on public interest and, indeed, a general need to weigh up competing

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public interests of allowing infrastructure development and the protection of certain types of specially protected land.

Lord Greaves: Does my noble friend agree that what is set out in the Bill is not a balanced view of the public interest, as he is suggesting, but a one-sided view of it? New subsection (4A)(d) states that,

“it is strongly in the public interest for the development for which the order grants consent to be capable of being begun sooner than is likely to be possible if the order were to be subject (to any extent) to special parliamentary procedure”.

If the new subsection referred to a balance of public interest in having a development as opposed to retaining a public open space, it would achieve what the Minister says that it does. However, that is not the case. It is a very one-sided consideration of the public interest.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I thank my noble friend for his intervention, but I do not agree with him on this point. We are not seeking to do away with the procedure altogether: we are ensuring that the procedure is still in place and can be invoked where there is a genuine public interest. This is not about sweeping the procedure away, although perhaps, on this occasion, we have different ways of looking at what is in front of us.

Clause 22 would repeal those sections of the Act that require special parliamentary procedure where land belonging to a local authority or land acquired by a statutory undertaker is compulsorily acquired. Repeal of these provisions would bring the Planning Act into line with other, similar consent regimes, such as the Transport and Works Act 1992.

The Planning Act 2008 already provides extensive opportunities for representations from local people, local authorities and statutory undertakers to be made about the compulsory acquisition of land. There are also comprehensive requirements for pre-application consultation. Examination of an application provides opportunities for parties to make representations as to whether the proposed acquisition of the land should proceed. These include hearings as part of a public examination. Persons whose land is acquired can require such a hearing to take place and, importantly, relevant representations will continue to be taken into account in the recommendations made to the Secretary of State and will inform his subsequent decision. I stress that the requirement, under Section 122 of the Planning Act, for there to be a compelling case in the public interest for the land to be compulsorily acquired, will also remain unchanged. This will be a crucial factor for the Secretary of State when reaching a decision on whether to authorise the compulsory acquisition.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, very clearly set out the effect of his amendment. It would mean that transport undertakings would still see the compulsory acquisition of land acquired by them for the purposes of their undertaking being subject to SPP, but the land of other statutory undertakers and local authorities would not be. I understand the noble Lord’s concern about the removal of statutory undertakers’ land from those types of land which can give rise to SPP. It would, however, be wrong to think that such land can be compulsorily acquired without any opportunity for

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statutory undertakers to present their case against the acquisition before the decision is made. There are ample opportunities to do so. I therefore hope that noble Lords will understand why the Government consider there to be no need for an additional level of scrutiny for such land through special parliamentary procedure.

I move on to the other provisions in Clause 22 and will address the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and supported by my noble friend Lord Jenkin. These would amend the definition of an open space used for the purposes of considering whether such land would trigger special parliamentary procedure under the Planning Act. Clause 22 also amends the provisions in the Planning Act 2008 which cover the compulsory acquisition of commons, open space land and what are known as “fuel and field garden allotments” or the compulsory acquisition of rights over those types of land. The Government have considered carefully the extent to which SPP should apply when open space is compulsorily acquired or a right over such land is acquired in respect of nationally significant infrastructure projects. At present, the main situation where the Secretary of State can decide that SPP should not apply is when replacement land is given in exchange for the land subject to the compulsory acquisition. However, the Government consider that there could be a very limited number of cases where such exchange land may not be available or, if it were available, would be available only at a prohibitive cost.

Clause 22 therefore proposes extending the circumstances, under the Planning Act 2008, in which the Secretary of State can decide that the compulsory acquisition of open space or rights over such land should not trigger SPP. The proposals would allow the Secretary of State to decide that SPP should not apply where open space is compulsorily acquired and suitable replacement land for the land being acquired is not available or available only at prohibitive cost. This would, however, apply only where it is demonstrated to be strongly in the public interest for the development to start sooner than is likely to be the case if it were subject to SPP. We expect that, in most cases, developers will continue to provide suitable replacement land to avoid the need for SPP. However, there may be limited occasions, such as in heavily urbanised areas, when such land is not available. Given the importance of infrastructure to growth, there may be cases where development should be able to proceed promptly without going through SPP.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his general support for government proposals in the Bill on infrastructure. Turning to his amendment, the current definition of open space, used in the Planning Act is,

“any land laid out as a public garden, or used for the purposes of public recreation, or land which is a disused burial ground”.

The noble Lord’s amendment would have the effect of amending the definition of open space for the purposes of triggering SPP under the Planning Act. Such a distinction does not reflect the rationale for open space being given special status in terms of compulsory acquisition. The need for additional scrutiny through SPP in cases involving open space derives from the public use of such land and the wider public interest in

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its continued availability for such use. Whether such land is designated for such purposes is immaterial in this context.

5.45 pm

Before I conclude, I will say a few brief words about the government amendments and pick up on a couple of questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. The Government are not making any changes to circumstances where compulsory acquisition of National Trust land and common land triggers SPP. These types of land are nationally and historically significant. The government amendments to Clause 22 are minor and will ensure that this remains the case. In particular, where land acquired is held both inalienably by the trust and is also a common, open space or fuel or field garden allotment, SPP will continue to apply under the provisions in the Planning Act governing National Trust land, even where the Secretary of State has reached a view that it should not apply under the provisions covering commons, open space or a fuel or field garden allotment.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, raised the issue of the Canal and River Trust against the issues with the National Trust. The Government recognise the points he has raised. There is a special status attached to the National Trust because of the extent of the land it owns. Therefore, it occupies a special position, including its benefit in relation to SPP. That said, I hear what the noble Lord has said and it would be useful to arrange to sit down with him and the Canal and River Trust to establish exactly what the issues are and discuss the matter further.

Clause 23(10) is a minor and technical amendment that the Government are making to clarify the effect of subsection (10). As amended, this provides that Clause 23, like Clause 22, may apply to any development consent order under the Planning Act made after the clause has commenced. The amendment removes reference to other compulsory purchase orders as it is not our intention to apply the changes in Clause 23 to such orders where proceedings have started prior to commencement.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, also raised the issue of judicial review and asked a specific question about whether decisions taken which were not subject to SPP would be subject to judicial review, and whether this was the Government’s intention. Our current view is that the 2008 Act provides for judicial review of decisions on development consent orders and it is right that errors of law or procedural failures should be subject to challenge where necessary. We are not seeking to alter this, but it is important to note that judicial review will not happen in respect of every order authorising the acquisition of special land, and someone wishing to bring such a challenge would need the specific permission of the court to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, made a point about safeguarding of lands and ports. The specific matter of safeguarding policy has been taken up with Ministers in the Department for Transport. I know that my honourable friend Stephen Hammond has written specifically on this letter. I am not sure whether he has seen that particular letter but we can perhaps bring it to his attention as well.

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In conclusion, the proposals set out in Clause 22 will help ensure that essential infrastructure projects are not delayed by the need for the additional scrutiny required through SPP where this is not considered necessary. Notwithstanding the point made by my noble friend Lord Greaves, we have struck a fair balance between the protection of certain types of land and the need for new infrastructure to support growth. I therefore hope that, in view of my explanations and the Government’s amendments to Clauses 22 and 23, other noble Lords will be minded to withdraw or not move their amendments.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I have just two points. First, the Minister said that it was important in the national interest to get big infrastructure projects going. Clause 24, which we will discuss shortly, relates to business and commercial developments that may or may not be thought to be infrastructure, but which many people will think are not. This new provision for fewer special parliamentary procedures will apply to that clause also.

Secondly, when we were discussing Clause 1 some time ago, the Government were adamant that it was necessary to have such provisions in the legislation in order to make sure that planning authorities that they thought were not performing got up to speed and organised themselves. The Government said that they hoped that no planning authorities would ever come under these provisions, but they were nevertheless a necessary back-stop. However, if there is to be no back-stop of special parliamentary procedure in these cases, is it not the case that the incentive for developers to provide alternative land or open space when necessary will be less because they can simply apply to the Secretary of State, who can say, “No, you do not need to do so”? They can then do absolutely nothing about it. Surely the fact that there have been so few examples of special parliamentary procedure is because applicants for development consent have done their business and found appropriate alternative open space to replace any that they are using. The current system is working and there is a danger that there will be far less of this happening, simply because the back-stop SPP procedure will not exist.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, there has been a fairly wide-ranging debate on this group of amendments, covering ports, canals, plots of land and so on. As far as I am concerned, I am grateful for what the Minister said about ports—in particular, for his latter remark concerning the letter from the Shipping Minister in another place, which I very much look forward to seeing. I will take on board what the noble Lord said and ruminate on whether to take this matter any further but, in the mean time, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 75A withdrawn.

Amendments 75B to 77ZA not moved.

Amendments 77ZAA and 77ZAB

Moved by Baroness Hanham

77ZAA: Clause 22, page 24, line 26, leave out “To ensure that” and insert “In”

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77ZAB: Clause 22, page 24, line 28, leave out from “objections)” to end of line 35 and insert “after subsection (3) insert—

“(3A) In a case to which this section applies and to which section 131 or 132 also applies, special parliamentary procedure—

(a) may be required by subsection (2) whether or not also required by section 131(3) or 132(2), and

(b) may be required by section 131(3) or 132(2) whether or not also required by subsection (2).””

Amendments 77ZAA and 77ZAB agreed.

Clause 22, as amended, agreed.

Clause 23 : Modifications of special parliamentary procedure in certain cases

Amendments 77ZB and 77ZC not moved.

Amendment 77ZD

Moved by Lord Faulkner of Worcester

77ZD: Clause 23, page 25, leave out lines 8 to 26

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 77ZE and 77ZF. I have also given notice that I wish to oppose the Question that Clause 23 should stand part of the Bill. This is, in a sense, a continuation of our previous debate on Clause 22. Perhaps I may first respond to the Minister’s generous offer to convene a meeting with the Canal & River Trust. I am delighted to accept, as, I am sure, the trust will be; I look forward to the meeting.

I shall not repeat the arguments that I put forward regarding Clause 22 but seek simply to state that what the Government propose in Clause 23 goes further than what the two chairmen—the Chairman of Ways and Means in another place and our Chairman of Committees—recommended in their special report on the Rookery South order, when they considered the promoters’ challenges to the locus standi of the petitioners against the order. In paragraph 28 of their report, the two chairmen concluded:

“We urge the Government to amend either the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act 1945 or the Planning Act 2008—or both—so as to ensure a consistent statutory framework for the consideration of future Development Consent Orders subject to Special Parliamentary Procedure. In drawing up revised provisions, the Government will need to consult with the relevant authorities of the two Houses. In the meantime, no further orders of this type should be laid before Parliament until the statutory framework has been amended to resolve these inconsistencies”.

In its proceedings on Rookery South, the Joint Committee decided at the outset that it wished to hear evidence on the whole of each of the petitioners’ cases. The amendments proposed by Clause 23 would have prevented the Joint Committee from doing so. It is likely in future cases, once Clause 23 is in force, that any attempt to petition on issues that are not related to the acquisition of the special land are likely to be challenged at the preliminary stage before the two chairmen.

Despite that, it remains to be seen whether petitioners will be able to raise issues that are not directly related to the acquisition of the land. It has always been a central tenet of compulsory acquisition law that the applicant for the powers must demonstrate that there

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is a compelling case in the public interest for the land to be acquired compulsorily—a point made with great force by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in the previous debate. Those words are embodied in Section 122(3) of the Planning Act. In order for a petitioner to demonstrate that there is no compelling case in the public interest, he should be able to bring evidence to bear about the benefits of the proposals as a whole, compared with the injury that he will suffer when losing his land.

As I said, Clause 23 goes further than the request made by the two chairmen, who limited their remarks to the 2008 Act. No issue has been raised as regards the compatibility between the Acquisition of Land Act 1981—and other statutes that authorise compulsory acquisition—and the 1945 Act; yet the clause seeks to limit the scope of SPP in the 1981 Act and the other examples in the same way as it does for 2008 Act cases. I should be grateful if the Minister can explain why the Government have decided that this should be the case. My amendments would have the effect of limiting the changes proposed to the SPP procedure so that they apply only to development consent orders under the Planning Act 2008. I beg to move.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I wish to put on record that I support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for explaining the reasoning behind his amendments. I have also noted his opposition to the Question that Clause 23 should stand part of the Bill. In my response, it might be helpful if I set out the reasons behind the approach that the Government have taken, how Clause 23 delivers that and take up some of the noble Lord’s questions.

Clause 23 amends the Statutory Orders (Special Procedure) Act 1945. That Act sets out the procedural requirements for any order that is subject to special parliamentary procedure. Clause 23 ensures that where a development consent order under the Planning Act 2008 is subject to SPP, consideration will be limited to the order only in so far as it authorises the compulsory acquisition of special land. This is to reflect the wording and intention of the 2008 Act.

The clause also makes similar provision for certain other compulsory acquisition powers that require an order to be subject to SPP. It applies to any order involving the compulsory acquisition of specially protected land as a result of Sections 17, 18 and 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. It also applies to the Harbours Act 1964, certain provisions of the New Towns Act 1981 and the Transport and Works Act 1992. The clause will ensure that SPP applies in the way originally intended, where legislation makes clear that an order is to be subject to this procedure to a limited extent.

The need for Clause 23 reflects an inconsistency between the 1945 Act and certain more recent legislation. This was drawn to the Government’s attention by the Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means in their initial joint report on the Rookery South order which, as the noble Lord Faulkner knows

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well, has been subject to SPP. The Planning Act 2008 provides that a development consent order which authorises the acquisition of special land is to be subject to SPP to the extent that the order authorises acquisition of such land. Consideration of that order should therefore be limited to that part of the consent order authorising the compulsory acquisition of special land.

6 pm

However, the 1945 Act does not currently make provision for Parliament to consider just part of an order. This means that decisions on matters such as whether consent for development should be granted, which have been properly decided by a Minister, are open for reconsideration by Parliament. This was not the original intention of the Planning Act 2008 or the other Acts that I have mentioned. Clause 23 seeks to resolve this inconsistency. It amends the 1945 Act so that it covers circumstances where SPP applies only to a limited extent.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, would limit the proposal in Clause 23 only to cases where authorisation for the compulsory acquisition of special land was granted under the provisions of the Planning Act. That would mean not addressing the inconsistency that currently exists between the 1945 Act and those other pieces of legislation which state that Special Parliamentary Procedure should apply to an order to a limited extent. Indeed, the amendment would create a new discrepancy in the way that similar compulsory acquisition provisions are handled. Given that this inconsistency has now been drawn to our attention, it is important to ensure that it is removed wherever it occurs.

It may be helpful to give a very brief summary of how the actual proposals in Clause 23 would work in practice. Clause 23 identifies a statutory provision that requires an order to be subject to SPP to be limited as a “special-acquisition provision”. New Section 1A of the 1945 Act provides that, where an order is subject to SPP under a special acquisition provision, that order is to be known as a “special authorisation”, in so far as it authorises the compulsory acquisition of special land or rights over such land. Paragraphs 3 to 18 of the new Section 1A set out modifications to the provisions of the 1945 Act. In many cases, these provide that references in the 1945 Act to the “order” are read as references to the “special authorisation”. The broad effect of this is that only petitions relating to the acquisition of special land may be considered by Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned at Second Reading, and he has again highlighted, the whole issue of petitioners bringing evidence to bear about the benefits of proposed projects as a whole where an order is subject to SPP. In response to that, I can say that the provisions in Clause 23 keep existing procedures in place regarding the handling of petitions. It will continue to be for the Lord Chairman of Committees and the Chairman of Ways and Means to decide whether petitions can be certified as “proper to be received”.

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However, under Clause 23, the provisions in the 1945 Act in respect of petitions against an order must be read so that petitions against an order are construed as petitions against a special authorisation. Petitions can only therefore be certified as being proper to be received if they are petitions against the elements of an order authorising the compulsory acquisition of special land. In any particular case, it is the two chairmen’s role to make a judgment as to whether a petition is proper to be received.

Although there has been detail, I have not gone into extended detail on the provisions in this clause. However, it does ensure that, where a provision makes clear that SPP is to be limited to the consideration of the compulsory acquisition of special land, that aim is achieved. Ensuring that such legislation operates as intended is crucial to getting in place the vital infrastructure that this country needs. I therefore hope, based on my reassurances and comments, that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is willing to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I can start with the easy bit, which is to thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his support. What the Minister has said is incredibly complicated. I will need to read it with great care and, I suspect, take advice from people who are much cleverer in this area than I am. I am grateful for the trouble that he has gone to in explaining the Government’s position and, indeed, the whole approach of the Government on the SPP in Clauses 22 and 23. I think that I am in a minority in your Lordships’ House about the need to preserve the significant elements of the SPP operation. However, for the moment, I am happy to withdraw the amendment if the Committee agrees.

Amendment 77ZD withdrawn.

Amendments 77ZE and 77ZF not moved.

Amendment 77ZG

Moved by Baroness Hanham

77ZG: Clause 23, page 29, line 25, leave out from “(5)” to “after” in line 27 and insert “, so far as it applies to orders granting development consent, applies to any such order made”

Amendment 77ZG agreed.

Clause 23, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 77ZH

Moved by Lord Greaves

77ZH: After Clause 23, insert the following new Clause—

“Appropriation or disposal of open space land by local authorities

(1) The Local Government Act 1972 is amended as follows.

(2) For section 122(2)(b), substitute—

“(b) the council has complied with section 127A.”

(3) In section 122(2A), for the words after “appropriating the land” substitute “the council has complied with section 127A”.

(4) In section 123(2A), for the words after “disposing of the land” substitute “the council has complied with section 127A”.

(5) In section 126(4)(b), for the words “appropriating the land” substitute “the council has complied with section 127A”.

(6) In section 126(4A), for the words after “appropriating the land” substitute “the council has complied with section 127A”.

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(7) After section 127 insert—

“127A Conditions attaching to appropriation or disposal of certain lands

(1) When a local authority proposes to appropriate or dispose of land under this section—

(a) the authority shall give notice of its intention—

(i) by advertisement in two consecutive weeks in at least one newspaper circulating in the area in which the land is situated,

(ii) on the authority’s website,

(iii) by notices in prominent positions on the land,

(iv) by serving a copy of the notice on every other local authority and planning authority whose area includes or is adjacent to that area, and

(v) by serving a copy of the notice on every voluntary body known to have a concern for the maintenance of the land or adjacent land for the benefit of the public, nature conservation or historic interest;

(b) the notice shall indicate the location and boundaries of the land and of any land to be given in exchange and where further information and plans may be inspected or copies obtained;

(c) subject to subsection (2), unless the land to be appropriated or disposed of does not exceed 250 square yards (209 square metres) land must be provided in exchange that is not less in area and is equally advantageous to the public, to be vested in the local authority subject to the like rights, trusts and incidents that attach to the land to be appropriated or disposed of;

(d) the notice shall provide for a period of not less than 28 days from the date of publication of its first advertisement and display during which objections or representations can be made to the authority; and

(e) if the authority decides to amend its proposal, this shall be subject to further notice in accordance with paragraphs (a) to (d).

(2) If the local authority considers that land in exchange for that to be appropriated or disposed of under this section is wholly or partly unnecessary, the notice must state this and give the reasons for the statement.

(3) If a proposal under this section remains subject to objection and is not withdrawn after the local authority has considered the representations received, it shall be referred to the Secretary of State for decision.””

Lord Greaves: My Lords, Amendment 77ZH introduces a new clause to provide a new procedure for the appropriation and disposal of open space land by local authorities. This does not apply to common land, for which there is already a different and better system.

The proposed new clause is a slightly modified version of the amendment I moved during the Committee stage of the Localism Bill on 28 June 2011. It amends the present Local Government Act 1972 procedure for the appropriation or disposal of non-common land open space, which dates from amendments made in 1980 to simplify the previous procedure. A local authority has merely to publish its intention in a local newspaper in two consecutive weeks and invite objections for its consideration. This can be done in private—for example, by a cabinet member who is under no obligation to give reasons for, or even publish, the decision. There is no right of appeal by the objectors. The land can then be used, sold or let for other uses free of all existing open space trusts and without regard to the fact that a park or recreation ground may have been gifted to or acquired cheaply—often, perhaps, with

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major contributions from public appeals—by the council’s predecessor on trust for the perpetual enjoyment of the public.

The trust may have been imposed for a particular open space in a local Act of Parliament which authorised its acquisition, but most of these open spaces are now held under the general trust in Section 10 of the Open Spaces Act 1906. Others were acquired or appropriated under Acts which do not specify a trust. However, high judicial authority has decided that all are held on trust for the benefit of the public and are not simply council property easily available for any of its services or to sell off.

The leading judgment is known as the Brockwell Park case, which noble Lords will remember discussing during proceedings on the Localism Bill. The House of Lords decided Lambeth Overseers v London County Council in 1897. This was summarised by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Halsbury, as follows:

“One sentence was sufficient to dispose of the case—namely, that the public, for whom the County Council were merely custodians or trustees, were not rateable occupiers, and that there was no beneficial occupation of the property whatever”.

In the fuller judgment, Lord Herschell drew a parallel with the then recent Court of Appeal decision in relation to Putney Bridge. In other words, what is applicable to a highway is equally applicable to a park. However, the procedure for extinguishing any type of highway, whether motorway or public footpath, is by no means simple.

In a further judgement, slightly more recently in October 2012, the Court of Appeal held in Barkas v North Yorkshire County Council that land laid out and maintained as a recreation ground under Housing Act powers was,

“appropriated for the purpose of public recreation”,

and therefore local inhabitants indulge in lawful sports and pastimes by right and not as of right, as would be necessary to prove for the creation of a town or village green. This decision confirms that, if land acquired under other Acts for regeneration or major development is allocated for recreational purposes, it becomes equated with land acquired specifically for those purposes.

The present wording in the Local Government Act positively encourages breaking a trust imposed by the Open Spaces Act, never mind one implied by other Acts. If the land had been owned privately subject to a similar trust, it would be deemed to be held for charitable purposes and its use could not be so easily changed. It is surely wrong for a public authority to be encouraged in this manner, often in contradiction to its own planning policies. The proposed new clause is intended to rectify the situation.

During the Committee stage of the Localism Bill, my noble friend Lady Hanham was rather anxious about the provision for land in exchange. However, this was a standard requirement before the Local Government Act was amended in 1980 and remains where Section 19 of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 applies. This is when compulsory purchase powers are used and in certain other cases such as for the appropriation of commons under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. It is an important disincentive to choosing open space as a cheap and easy solution for obtaining other development requirements. Where major

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regeneration is proposed, it is accepted that compulsory powers should be used to obtain the full site required. This may include new or enlarged open space under the CPO.

This is a complicated matter. I am grateful to the Open Spaces Society for its assistance in proposing this amendment and I look forward to the Minister’s reply. I beg to move.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for explaining his proposed new clause. He is of course greatly concerned with the protection of open spaces such as commons and what are known as “fuel and field garden allotments”. I am sure that that sentiment resonates with many in the Committee. My noble friend also explained that when a local authority, including a parish or town council, wishes to appropriate this type of land for another purpose or to dispose of it, notification procedures should be beefed up and exchange land should be provided. His main point is that the present arrangements are inadequate and that more protection is required to prevent open space and other similar land from being lost to development.

The system that my noble friend seeks to amend concerns two types of land and two types of transaction. The types of land are commons, including town and village greens, and open space. The transactions are appropriation and disposal. The Committee will not be surprised to hear that the legislation that governs all of this is not confined to the Local Government Act 1972, which this amendment seeks to change. Significant elements are contained within the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. For commons, I think that my noble friend already has most of what he wants. Appropriation of common land larger than 250 square yards requires an order to be made by the local authority and then confirmed by the Secretary of State. Exchange land must also be provided, on pain of special parliamentary procedure—which we have just debated extensively—in the same way as for compulsory purchase orders.

In many cases, disposals also need the consent of the Secretary of State. For open space, the publicity and related arrangements for the consideration of objections are the same for both appropriation and disposal. If local authorities fail to consider objections properly, they run the risk that their decision will be challenged in the courts. Although protection for open space may appear lacking in legislation, this is not the whole story. Open space has had strong protection in the National Planning Policy Framework. Paragraph 74 states that existing open space should not be built on unless an assessment has been made to show that the land is clearly surplus and, moreover, that the loss should be replaced by the equivalent or better provision. It is therefore the Government’s view that the protection of open spaces should be through the planning system and not front-loaded on to the procedures for appropriating or disposing of land. I hope that my noble friend will be minded to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I might be persuaded to withdraw my amendment when I have said one or two more things. One difficulty we are having in this

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Committee is that the Government are trying to deal with issues such as open spaces just through the planning system when in practice, as the Minister said, there are different laws that relate to open space, commons and so on. This is precisely the problem that we had when we talked about the registration of town and village greens: trying to align two clearly separate systems. You cannot simply say that the planning system is the way to deal with this.

I am grateful to the Minister for reminding us that the National Planning Policy Framework strongly proposes that, wherever possible, open spaces should not be built on, but that is not the purpose of this amendment. It is about buying and selling open space, not about the planning regime that refers to it. However, I am grateful for what the Minister said. I will carefully look at his response and again take advice. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 77ZH withdrawn.

6.15 pm

Clause 24 : Bringing business and commercial projects within Planning Act 2008 regime

Amendment 77ZJ

Moved by Lord Adonis

77ZJ: Clause 24, page 29, line 32, after “may” insert “, subject to regulations excluding sites of special environmental or historic importance,”

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I will speak to the six amendments in this group standing in my name. The question before us is what projects should be considered nationally significant and therefore subject to the Planning Act 2008, as amended in this Bill, and therefore subject to a national rather than a local planning consent regime. The 2008 Act permits this change to projects of national significance in respect of infrastructure. Clause 24 extends this to business and commercial schemes.

The thrust of my amendments is that Parliament should not give the Secretary of State such wide-ranging powers without defining their extent carefully in the Bill. In the Bill, discretion as to what constitutes national significance is left almost entirely to the Secretary of State. The only substantial limitation is that regulations may not encompass projects that include residential dwellings. My amendments are all probing and I look forward to the Minister’s response to the substantial points underlying each.

Amendment 77ZJ would exclude from the new arrangements sites of special environmental or historic importance. Amendment 77AB would exclude developments that involve surface mineral extraction or quarrying. Such applications arouse especially strong local feeling, and to circumvent local planning entirely for such schemes is bound to give rise to acute concern. Amendments 77AA, 77AC and 77BA would remove the Secretary of State’s discretion to define what is meant by business or commercial and to permit the bypassing of a local authority, because Amendment 77ZA and other amendments in my name specify the definition in the Bill.

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Amendment 77ZA seeks to define business and commercial projects of national significance, rather than leaving it entirely to the discretion of the Secretary of State. Under my amendments, these projects could be subject to the national process only if they are in specific areas—largely those set out in annexe A of the Government’s consultation on what should constitute nationally significant infrastructure projects in the business and commercial sphere.

That leads me to the Government’s consultation on those projects. The Government will no doubt respond to my amendment by saying that they have consulted both on categories of development and on thresholds within those categories in terms of the number of square metres that might apply in determining whether a commercial or business development application is of national significance. Last week, the Government published their analysis of the responses. However, they have not yet said how they intend to proceed. A key issue for us in this debate is to know what the Government’s response will be to the consultation that they carried out on types of development and thresholds. I will welcome the Minister’s response to the question of what the Government intend to do in respect of the types of development and thresholds set out in annexe A of the consultation. If the Minister is not able to give me a response now, I would be very grateful if he would write to noble Lords before Report. I beg to move.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 78 in this group, which is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding. It is yet another attempt to change the definition of what type of project could be included in the extent of the Planning Act. It relates to commercial and business developments that require consent under the national significant infrastructure regime.

The issue that I would like to raise is that of mixed-use schemes that have some housing or retail element. They should be able to take advantage of the regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects. Any retail element is excluded from the proposed list of development types set out in annexe A of the recent CLG consultation on extending the Planning Act regime. I imagine that this could always be reversed if the Government were minded to do so, but the Bill prevents any housing element being included in regulations.

I believe there is a large number of potentially significant business and commercial developments that will have some retail and certainly some housing element in them, even if it is only a caretaker. In theory, if there is just one property in a development, it cannot qualify for going down the nationally significant route. It is important for such developments to be able to include some housing element and to go for the nationally significant approach. An awful lot of time and cost could be saved if this were possible. The original prohibition of housing was well intentioned, and clearly big housing projects are not what the nationally significant definition is for, but it is a problem because if there were just one or two houses in a big development, it would be excluded.

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That is what this probing amendment seeks to achieve. I hope that the Minister is willing to look at this again. Perhaps we can discuss whether there is some better wording that could be applied on Report.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, this group of amendments seeks to set out in the Bill the types of development and development sites which can and cannot be considered nationally significant under Clause 24. A number of specific amendments have been moved, and I will attempt to address the issues in each.

As noble Lords are aware, the purpose of Clause 24 is to extend the existing powers within the Planning Act to direct sub-threshold forms of energy, waste, transport, water and waste-water schemes into the Planning Act regime, to new forms of business and commercial development. Our intention is not to bring new development into the regime automatically but to provide an alternative planning route where proposed development is of national significance. We have recently consulted on the types of business and commercial developments, and we are now in the process of considering the responses to that consultation.

Amendments 77ZJ and 77AB would rule out proposed schemes using the regime if they were on sites of special environmental or historic importance or if they involved minerals extraction, or quarrying. These amendments would apply equally to the existing types of infrastructure, such as energy, transport and water, as well as to new forms of business and commercial schemes.

An example of the effect of Amendment 77ZJ is that a sub-threshold energy scheme of national significance that might otherwise be considered via the Planning Act route could not be the subject of a direction if part of the site had an environmental designation. We do not consider this to be a sensible approach. If a scheme is of national significance and is directed into the regime, the Secretary of State will have to consider all the issues that are important and relevant, including any impacts on the historic or natural environment, before reaching his decision. To exclude large tracts of land without consideration of the planning merits or otherwise of the proposed development could discourage developers bringing forward much needed infrastructure or economic developments.

I will explain our thinking on minerals a little bit more. As we recognised in the National Planning Policy Framework, minerals are essential to support sustainable economic growth and quality of life. Without minerals, our building industry would grind to a halt. It is essential that there is a sufficient supply of material to provide the infrastructure, buildings, energy and goods that the country needs. We therefore consider that some minerals schemes could be capable of being of national significance, but again we wish to consider the consultation responses before we reach final conclusions about the forms of development.

Amendments 78ZA, 77AA, 77AC and 77BA seek to place the types of commercial and business development in the Bill. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, broadly agrees with the types of development on which the Government consulted recently in connection

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with the proposals to extend the infrastructure planning regime to business and commercial projects. Nevertheless, we consider that this amendment is premature. We believe that a broad range of types of development of national significance could benefit from using the infrastructure planning regime and that further public and parliamentary scrutiny on how this new power should be used is appropriate. That is why we are now considering the responses to this consultation and why the accompanying regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

Amendment 78, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and my noble friend Lord Jenkin, also seeks to remove the exclusion in the Bill on dwellings from being prescribed in regulations. I listened carefully to the remarks made on this point by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. The Government have a clear position that planning for housing should remain a core responsibility of local councils. As the Government set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, local councils should be planning to deliver a wide choice of high-quality homes and wider opportunities for home ownership and creating sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities.

Many of the responses to the consultation exercise that we carried out recently supported the exclusion of housing from the infrastructure planning regime. Again, we are considering these responses, but we believe that housing should be and remain a core responsibility of local authorities.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I did not intervene in the debate, because the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made the point. When will the Government publish the full response to the consultation? It has been represented to me that there were quite a lot of objections to the exclusion of housing. Of course one agrees that housing cannot be a main purpose of an application that goes directly to the Planning Inspectorate, but there are a lot of mixed developments now that usefully and importantly will include a housing aspect. It ought to be possible for an applicant to use the new procedure to have his application referred directly to the inspectorate.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I think that I made clear in my remarks that we are considering the results of the consultation that has just taken place. At present, the intention is to continue to have housing dealt with by local authorities. We are analysing the responses at the moment. While we already have a summary of the issues, we will publish a full response in due course. The summary of the issues may be helpful to us for the next stage.

I hope that noble Lords will agree the Government have set out a sensible approach that will enable new forms of nationally significant development to benefit from the Planning Act regime, that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment, and that other noble Lords do not press the amendments in their names, mainly probing as I understand them to be.

6.30 pm

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I did not quite catch what the Minister said. Will a published summary of the issues encompass a summary of the Government’s

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views and their response to the consultation, and did she say we would perhaps have that before Report? Some of us did not put down detailed amendments on Clause 24 because we were waiting for some clearer indication of exactly what it means in detail. If we do not get at least a summary or broad overview of the Government’s views on this before Report, we might be tempted to take up more time on Report by putting new amendments down than the Minister would perhaps prefer.

The other questions I wanted to ask were about minerals. Will Clause 24 make a difference, for example, to the way in which planning permission or development consent is given for things such as quarries in national parks—the quarrying of limestone in the Peak District, for example—which are highly controversial and at the moment are done by the local planning authority, the national park? Are decisions like that going to be moved to the Secretary of State and the infrastructure planning regime?

The other question was specifically about the development of fracking for unconventional gas, which is going ahead slowly in Lancashire. Lots of different consents have to be obtained for that, notably from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which takes place at a national level. However, the development that has taken place so far and the scale of it means that the planning permission, as I understand it, is the responsibility of the county council; in the case of the fracking that is taking place, or is about to resume, at the moment on an experimental basis in Lancashire, that will be Lancashire County Council.

It seems to me that with something like fracking, there are two crucial sets of decisions to be made. One is the question of whether the drilling, the fracking and the extraction of the gas should be allowed to take place. Then there are all the environmental issues related to that on the surface, such as the screening of developments and whether pipes from the different wellheads, which are quite close to each other, should be underground, overground or whatever, which is a matter of the local landscape and local planning. I would be quite appalled if the decisions over that kind of local planning were taken away from the local planning authority—in this case Lancashire County Council, as it is a minerals development—and put in the hands of a national authority, which I really do not think would have the local understanding or the ability to do the job properly. There are two separate issues there. Would it be possible for them to be separated, because they are dealing with quite different aspects, and for the decisions about whether the drilling and fracking goes ahead—and I should say that it seems to me that this is development which ought, at least on a pilot basis, to proceed as far as a viable commercial scheme—to be taken nationally through the infrastructure planning process but for the local details of the environmental protection and amelioration connected with it, and how that works on the surface, to be left with the local planning authority?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for those questions. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about the summary of responses. We have that summary of responses, and I think it has already gone

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to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis; if not, it is on its way. We can make sure that Members of the Committee receive a copy and will put it in the Library, so that it will be available for consideration at the next stage.

We are thinking about the responses to the consultation and whether fracking should be included in the infrastructure planning regime or, as the noble Lord said, stay with the local planning authority. At the moment, a request will have to be made to the Secretary of State to use the major planning infrastructure regime, and the Secretary of State will be interested in it only if the whole proposal was going to raise issues of national rather than local significance. Fracking is a developing area and things may change but, as I understand it, that is the situation at the moment. I hope with those explanations that the noble Lord may be willing to withdraw his amendment and that noble Lords will not press the others when the time comes.

Lord Greaves: I will perhaps take up the question of fracking with the Minister outside the Chamber. However, the important thing before Report is not to get the summary of responses—although that would obviously be useful—but to get the Government’s view of the responses and their view of the way forward.

Baroness Hanham: I understood that that was what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was getting at. I have committed to giving him the summary of the responses and have been told that the Government’s response will come in due course. That does not sound to me as if it will come before Report, but if it does, I will let noble Lords know that it is coming.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raises a point of some substance. I have read the summary of responses which the noble Baroness very kindly sent to me a short while ago. It is supremely uninformative. Question 3 asks:

“Do you agree with our assessment of the factors that the Secretary of State would need to take into account when considering whether a project is nationally significant?”.

The summary of responses says:

“A number of respondents thought the assessment factors were broadly right whilst others commented that they were not detailed enough or were not supported at all”.

I could go through them, but it is a profound exercise in waffle and does not really help us very much. To be fair to the Government, in annexe A of their consultation paper, they set out both specific types of development and very specific criteria in terms of the square metreage for the thresholds that would need to be met before these projects are deemed to be of national significance. That is crucial in informing our view as to whether we think this clause should proceed without requiring further limitation, although I think there is quite a strong preference for seeking to put provisions in the Bill. It would be extremely helpful if the noble Baroness were able, before Report, to indicate whether the Government stick by their proposals in annexe A or are minded to amend them in any form. If that does not come before Report, we will of course have no chance to assess the Government’s intended course of action before this Bill becomes law.

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Baroness Hanham: My instinct would say that if it is there, then the Government are going to introduce it and are probably not going to amend it. If there is any change to that, I will let the noble Lord and the Committee know.

Lord Adonis: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 77ZJ withdrawn.

Amendment 77ZK

Moved by Lord Adonis

77ZK: Clause 24, page 29, line 35, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State must publish his reasons for giving a direction under this section.”

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the amendment standing in my name in this group is very simple. It would require the Secretary of State to publish the reason that a planning decision is to be made centrally, including why the application is regarded as nationally significant. This is a simple case of transparency and accountability. If the Secretary of State is to be granted the wide powers contained in this Bill, it is only right that their use should be open to scrutiny case by case. If the local authority is to have its planning role set aside, it seems only fair to tell it why. Just as planning inspectors have to give reasons for their decisions, it seems entirely consistent and transparent that the Secretary of State should have to give reasons for deeming a development proposal to be of national significance. I beg to move.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 77A, 77B and 78A, and to the question of whether Clause 24 should stand part of the Bill, which are down in the Marshalled List in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I am afraid mine will not be quite as swift and simple as the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, because I want to give a pretty full exposition of why Clause 24 should be deleted, or at least amended in a way that would remove the extension of the major infrastructure regime to business and commercial projects.

I am afraid that my subtext will be the same as for previous amendments I have put forward: this is another unnecessary clause in an unnecessary Bill. We still lack evidence of substantial numbers of large-scale projects being delayed under the current system. Using DCLG’s own statistics, local authorities are already determining and approving 87% of relevant, large-scale, major applications that might fall within the categories of Clause 24 within one year, which is the same period as the fast-track timetable that DCLG heralded when the Bill was published. Once again, we urge the Minister to present to the House the evidence for substantial delays or other reasons that would justify Clause 24.

The Minister Nick Boles, when briefing Peers, very kindly indicated that there would be only 10 to 20 applications to the Secretary of State each year under Clause 24. Therefore, one could take the view that it is hardly worth legislating for, especially as this is a centralising proposal that flies in the face of the Government’s commitment to localism. The Secretary of State has call-in powers if necessary. Indeed, if

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local authorities struggle with some of these larger-scale proposals, the Planning Advisory Service is available to support them. What additional benefits does the Minister believe are provided by the provisions in the clause beyond those already available?

Clause 24 is all the more unsatisfactory because of the point already raised by the noble Lords, Lord Adnois and Lord Greaves, about the consultation on how business and commercial developments will be defined in terms of type and scale. It has only just been completed. I, too, have read the summary of responses and, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, it was not hugely illuminating. Indeed, all the types of development that the consultation proposed would have major local impacts and need to be dealt with by local government. I add my voice to those who already urge the Minister that we see not only the summary of responses, but the Government’s reply and their intentions in terms of the clause, before Report. I ask the Minister to commit to producing the Government response before Report—otherwise we are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.

Of particular concern is that the proposals under Clause 24 also include the extractive industries: deep-mined coal, large onshore gas, oil and other mining and quarrying above certain thresholds. They would be brought within the major infrastructure planning system without robust guarantees that the considerable environmental impacts of these developments can be addressed through the planning system. They are usually dealt with through specific local, national park or county-level policies and procedures governing mineral planning issues. It is also unsatisfactory to propose that deep-mined coal be included in the proposed fast-track process because this seems at odds with the presumption against new coal that is included in the National Planning Policy Framework. It does not say much for commitment to addressing climate change if we regard these types of energy generation as sufficiently important to bypass the normal planning system.

One could say that there might be safeguards for decisions made under the national infrastructure procedure. National policy statements are the main basis on which nationally significant infrastructure projects on energy, transport, water or waste are decided. These have major advantages in that they are scrutinised by Parliament before being agreed. However, we do not yet know as a result of the consultation process whether Ministers will change their minds about formulating national policy statements for business or commercial schemes. The consultation was on the basis that there would be no national policy statements for these schemes, but I see from the consultation response summary that there has been some pressure to develop further national policy statements in these areas. Can the Minister give the House some clarification on the Government’s position on national policy statements for business and commercial schemes, and could we have that clarification before Report?

6.45 pm

There is a fundamental problem with the clause because it tries to imply that there is national significance for business and commercial schemes that are intrinsically

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local. Concocting national policy statements for these areas of business and commerce will be pretty difficult because they are not really national in their significance. It seems that they are being artificially designated simply to enable developers to chance their luck with the Secretary of State rather than the local planning authority. Of course, the Minister will say in response that there are other safeguards surrounding the impacts of business and commercial projects decided under the major infrastructure proposals. These include local plans and the National Planning Policy Framework.

However, a letter that the Minister sent, clarifying the Government’s position on the local plan, still made it pretty clear that there is no legal requirement for the Secretary of State to give weight to the local plan. Therefore, in the absence of a national policy statement, the Secretary of State can legally give weight to almost anything. Even where there is a local plan, the Secretary of State’s consideration will take account of a whole range of factors, only one of which will be the local plan. That is a considerable departure from the principle of the planning system, which is of a plan-led approach. At the very minimum, will the Minister undertake to look at amending the clause to ensure that the local plan is afforded pre-eminence in the absence of a national policy statement?

The other safeguard that the Minister will no doubt want to put forward is the role of the NPPF. The Government made it clear in the consultation document that, in the absence of a national policy statement, the NPPF and other local policy and material consideration could form the policy framework for decision-making on these schemes. However, in practical terms, the NPPF does not lend itself to the national infrastructure planning process. It was written to inform the decisions of local planning authorities in their plan-making and development management functions under the Town and Country Planning Acts. Throughout the NPPF, the references to the planning system and planning law are really references to the Town and Country Planning Acts, not to the 2008 national infrastructure regime. The very wording of the NPPF says that local authorities should do this and should do that, not that the Secretary of State should do this and should do that. This makes the NPPF difficult to apply outside the specific context of local planning. To give one example, the presumption in favour of sustainable development could not be applied to the Secretary of State’s decisions under the national infrastructure procedure because the whole of this policy in the NPPF is set in the context of what local authorities will do in the local plan.

Therefore, the Secretary of State might not have a national policy statement to guide him, can choose to give as little or great weight to the local plan as he may, and the NPPF does not give him much help, if my analysis is correct. This does not exactly seem a policy and plan-led decision system, which gives certainty to developers, fairness to local interests and swiftness to decisions.

I could go on for hours about Clause 24—some might say I already have—but there are a few other things that I should like to put as weights in the scale. The process itself for national infrastructure planning

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is not particularly satisfactory in the absence of a national policy statement or a pre-eminent authoritative local plan for a number of reasons. Local authorities can be asked for a local impact statement but these are pretty expensive and complex, and there is no requirement on the local authority to produce one. Depending on the volume of these cases, we might well find that local authorities become less and less keen, as they are not the deciding authority, to produce these.

There is also a particular issue with developers making significant changes to their applications following the pre-application consultation. That is admirable in that developers are responding to local input, but the big problems with the national infrastructure procedural hearings are that they are very tightly timetabled and there are no formal rights to cross-examine developers. There are real questions about whether there is real community involvement when such changes are happening through the NSIP procedure. This is particularly so since the decisions will not be made by the democratically elected local planning authority.

I may be about to pre-empt something that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, may say—I am sorry for putting words into his mouth if he does not intend to say this—but I must admit that when he capitulated on Clause 1 and said it would not affect very many councils so it was probably not worth arguing against, I had a bad night afterwards. Just because a clause will not affect many people, that does not make bad law good law, so I encourage him not to capitulate in future.

Let us also look at volume. The Minister has said that this provision is not likely to involve more than 10 to 20 cases per year. I, too, am concerned about volume for a number of reasons; for example, the shale gas fracking issue, where we know that potentially 800 well-heads are predicted in the north-west. These are well-heads of a limited duration; they move on fairly rapidly after a few years, so multiple applications are likely to come up in the future. In the light of predictions—for example, Friends of the Earth believes that there is a potential pool of projects of all sorts that could well come within the criteria, which are currently being consulted on and might total between 300 and 500 per year—it would be useful to know whether Ministers are still of the view that only 10 to 20 applications per year would come through under this process.

My concern is that one might live with a very small number of projects if one were the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but one would not live with a very large number of projects if one believed that this clause was not a good clause. This would also raise the question, which I leave with the Minister, of whether sufficient resources and measures are being put in place to ensure that the Planning Inspectorate can cope.

I hope that noble Lords are totally convinced by my long exposition of why Clause 24 is pretty horrible and should be amended.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I was going to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on her brilliant speech that meant that I did not have to say anything at all, really—until she started challenging me, as her

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supporter on this amendment, in her last few remarks. I do not think I did capitulate on Clause 1; I think it was on Clause 5 that I came to the view that it was not going to make any difference to anybody in practice. I will review that, but I certainly still feel fairly resolute about Clause 1, which I think is fundamentally wrong in principle no matter how many councils it affects.

As far as shale gas is concerned, my view is there should be a limited-scale commercial pilot, which inevitably would be in the west Lancashire plain, before anything else happens. I think that will take quite a few years to get under way. I certainly would not be in favour of the large-scale development of shale gas in this country until that pilot had taken place and we could assess whether or not some of the worst fears are true. I suspect that some of the worst fears are not true but equally, we must assess the environmental and landscape implications, which are perhaps not quite as important as the more fundamental questions about the effects of the drilling, but are nevertheless very important. That is my view on shale gas. As I said in the previous group, I am in favour of as much of that decision-making as possible remaining at a local, Lancashire level, even though the basic consents for the actual operation would be taken at national level by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and perhaps others.

I have one or two points to add to what the noble Baroness said. First, if there are 20 or 25 a year, the Government ought to come clean and tell us which commercial and business developments they believe have been stopped or significantly delayed in the past year or two years—or whatever period they choose—thus making this proposal necessary. Again, this would provide us with some hard evidence on the ground of ways in which the present system is preventing commercial and business developments taking place.

Of course, the Government would have to say which of those developments that have been delayed or, particularly, stopped they think ought to go ahead, and then people can judge this by outcomes. We can talk about processes until we are blue in the face but what most people are interested in are the actual outcomes of the planning process. Therefore, my question for the Government is: if this proposed new system had been in place for the past two years, what would have been different? If the answer is, “Not very much”, we are wasting our time here talking about it, quite frankly.

To underline what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said about the underlying planning policies that will guide the Secretary of State in his decisions, the whole infrastructure planning process, as set out in the 2008 Act, originally through the Infrastructure Planning Commission, was based on a series of national policy statements, which were government policy and were originally intended to guide the Infrastructure Planning Commission in its decisions. Just as local plans are there to guide local planning authorities in their decisions, the national policy statements were there, in different policy areas, to guide the Infrastructure Planning Commission in its work.

Now that the infrastructure planning process is being undertaken by the Secretary of State, the system has a fundamental fault at the heart of it, and I am

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increasingly of the view that the Government have got themselves into a bit of a mess by giving the powers of the Infrastructure Planning Commission to the Secretary of State. It is the Secretary of State who will make the policies and then make the development control decisions—presumably on the basis of the policies he has determined. There is something fundamentally wrong with that system, not least in that a decision is produced and there is no appeal process other than judicial review.

If there are not to be any of these national policy statements in relation to commercial and business development, where is the underlying planning policy coming from? Is it made up on the hoof by the Secretary of State or does it genuinely come from local plans? If it genuinely comes from local plans, why do we need to nationalise the system? As the noble Baroness eloquently explained, it is clearly not in the National Planning Policy Framework. The framework is very clearly set out as planning guidance from the Secretary of State, as policy, to local planning authorities making the decisions. That is its legal basis. That is what it is, and it replaces what the Government will say was about three feet of planning policy guidance that came in the old PPSs and PPGs. That has all gone; we have now got the National Planning Policy Framework. It is not an adequate basis for making decisions on big, nationally significant projects, whether they are on infrastructure or whether they are these new business and commercial ones that have been made by the Secretary of State.

The Government are in a bit of a mess over this. It is not clear on what basis the Secretary of State is going to make his decisions, which again is an invitation to more judicial review of decisions that are made.

7 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am tempted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in his interesting excursion into these matters. The Government’s decision—which has of course now been accepted by Parliament—is that the NSIPs should not go to an IPA which is then able to make the decisions itself, because the IPA is not accountable to anybody. To have the IPA—or, as it is now, the inspectorate—simply making recommendations and the Secretary of State then making the decisions seems to me constitutionally very much better. I am not going to take this further.

When we were talking earlier about national policy statements, I stressed to my noble friend Lord Ahmad that I think the Government will quite soon have to think of a national policy statement for shale oil—for unconventional oil—because questions are now being raised in the House. They are being raised widely in the relevant community outside.

I do not know quite which world the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, lives in. I have been the recipient of a number of complaints about the difficulty firms have in making developments which seem to me to be absolutely essential, and indeed are so under the national policy. There was an incident in which I sought help for an electricity substation, for which it was absolutely necessary to bring ashore the product—the electricity—

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from what was intended to be a large offshore wind farm. I am not sure whether even that has yet been granted. I was the recipient of at least two complaints about the provision of underground gas storage. Again, people have an absurd idea of what these things may be. Those are the kind of big decisions, big applications, which have been seriously held up. I think therefore that it is absolutely right for an applicant to say that the application should be heard under the NSIP procedure.

There is also the different problem raised by Amendment 78B. This has been put to me by the National Grid, which obviously has very considerable experience of dealing with applications which may arouse a good deal of opposition. The case is a very simple one; it is in fact seeking consistency. Under the new proposals for commercial development, only the applicant is entitled to ask the Secretary of State to make a referral to the inspectorate, whereas for all previous applications the application can be made by anyone, in addition, of course, to the promoter. One must ask whether it is right that, concerning the new category of business and commercial project, only the applicant is able to refer. Why does this not apply to all the other bodies? The argument for consistency seems really quite overwhelming.

My noble friend Lord Attlee will remember that I raised exactly the same point when we were discussing the Localism Bill 18 months ago. He stated that,

“it may be that third parties with expertise in particular areas, such as environmental requirements, possess information which they think may elevate a proposed development from one of sub-national significance to one of national significance. It would not be right to prevent such bodies drawing this information to the attention of the Secretary of State”. – [

Official Report

, 17/10/11; col. 107.]

Well, that is an argument. However, he of course pointed out that that amendment would enable someone to draw key information to the Secretary of State’s attention if it has not already come to light. The Secretary of State can then of course direct that the matter goes direct to the inspectorate under the NSIP procedure. On that occasion I was trying to break new ground, but that is not the case under this Bill. As I said a few moments ago, under this Bill only the promoter can take that step in relation to business and commercial projects, and I am puzzled as to why. My amendment therefore simply seeks to bring all the existing applications into line with the new one for business and commercial projects. I hope that my noble friend will view this as a pretty reasonable request.

Baroness Parminter: My Lords, I support my noble friend’s contention that this clause do not stand part of the Bill. I will not repeat the questions raised by noble Lords, which I feel deserve an answer from my noble friend the Minister. I am sure that we will get answers, because she has shown herself throughout this process to be very open and willing to engage with us.

The one issue I would like to expand on a little further is that of fracking, and bringing that into the fast track process. The Minister rightly said that this is a developing area, and it is therefore important that this House has time to consider all the possible implications. Like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and

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others, I think it is appropriate for the Government to introduce a national planning policy statement for this. As my noble friend Lord Greaves said, this is an important new area with major implications, particularly in the north-west. Given the scale of fracking and the Government’s commitment to press ahead with it, it would seem illogical not to give the Planning Inspectorate further clarity as it takes this issue forward.

The Minister said that there will be between 10 and 20 cases a year, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She cited evidence given by Friends of the Earth; I choose instead to cite evidence given to the House of Lords inquiry into EU energy policy last month, when Professor Jonathan Stern of the Oxford Institute gave his assessment of the implications of fracking in the United Kingdom. In the committee’s evidence session, Professor Stern stated:

“The US drills 45,000 wells every year of which 80% are fracked... people in Europe just do not understand the scale on which the drilling has taken place. In the future, it may be possible to reduce the scale of that drilling but I think what you can say is, if in any specific country you have drilled 100 wells, you may know something about the resource base. If you are going to produce shale gas on any scale, you probably need to be drilling somewhere between 300 and 500 wells a year, every year”.

I quote those figures because I think it is beholden upon my noble friend to answer—and I am sure she will do her best to do so—why the Government seem to think there will only be 10 to 20 cases emerging through this fast-tracking process if fracking is brought forward. There is a disparity which needs urgent clarification. Yes, it is a developing area, but if the Government are going to proceed with fracking, and take it forward as part of the energy mix in the short to medium term, then not only is there a case for a national policy statement, but there needs to be far greater clarity about the implications—particularly the resource implications—that would accrue for the Planning Inspectorate.

Baroness Hanham: I thank those noble Lords who have taken part in this rather interesting and short debate. I will try to pick up some of the matters raised, either as we go through or subsequently. Perhaps it would be helpful if I explain the Government’s rationale for Clause 24 and the reforms within it. As we have said on many occasions, one of the Government’s top priorities is to get the economy growing by creating the right conditions for growth. This includes ensuring that the planning system is operating in the most efficient and effective way. Clause 24 will support this aim by allowing developers of nationally significant business and commercial development to request to use the streamlined planning regime set out in the Planning Act 2008.

The noble Baroness’s Amendments 77A, 77B and 78A would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to issue a direction for prescribed forms of business and commercial development in response to a request from a developer. I have listened to views expressed that business and commercial planning applications should be determined by the local planning authority, and we have no difficulty with that. The Government agree that that is the right approach in the vast majority of cases. However, there will also be a small number of projects that will be of national economic importance

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and, in certain circumstances, it will be right that a decision on such proposals is taken at the national level by democratically elected Ministers.

We are not proposing that that should be a mandatory route for developers; it is optional. Developers of major projects will choose to request to use the infrastructure planning regime only if it offers other benefits which the local authority cannot provide, such as statutory timetabling—the noble Baroness asked me what it would be—and the one-stop shop, which will be useful where multiple consents are required.

Any request made to use the infrastructure planning regime will also be subject to the agreement of the Secretary of State, who will have to be satisfied that the proposed project is of national significance. Under Section 35(10) of the Planning Act, the Secretary of State is required to give reasons for his decision when making a direction, and that requirement is carried forward in new Section 35ZA(10) in Clause 24. That is why we cannot accept Amendment 77ZK, which is unnecessary.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin spoke to Amendment 78B, which would limit who can make a request that an application or proposed application for energy, transport, waste, water or waste water projects below the Planning Act thresholds should be directed into the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime. I understand why the amendment has been tabled and am sympathetic to its aims, but perhaps I may explain why we have set out a different approach in the Bill for business and commercial schemes.

The Planning Act sets specific thresholds for energy, transport, water, waste and waste water projects. Any proposal for a development which meets those thresholds must seek planning consent through the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime. Section 35 of the Planning Act allows a request to be made to use the regime for projects which are below the thresholds. We have not sought to limit who can make a Section 35 request for infrastructure projects as we recognise that other parties may hold information which could indicate that the project was one of national significance and should be directed into the regime. However, for business and commercial schemes, the Government have been very clear that for developers of major schemes this is an optional route. Therefore, the limitation on who can make a request is not there. We believe that it should be for a developer or applicant to determine whether the advantages of using the infrastructure planning regime outweigh the usual route of making a planning application to the local planning authority. The Secretary of State will direct a project into the regime only if he considers that it is of national significance.

Concerns have been expressed that if we do not accept the amendment the Secretary of State will be inundated with requests from third parties, or that there will be delay to the application being submitted or to the local authority decision-making process. We think that this is unlikely. We are aware of only a very small number of such requests having been made to date. The impact assessment states that the figure is likely to be between 10 and 20 a year. We will have to see how that works out.

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If an application or proposed application is directed into the nationally significant infrastructure regime, this does not mean that local opinions will be ignored. Developers will have to consult local communities, and local authorities will continue to play an important role. The consultation requirements of the Planning Act, as noble Lords will know, are rigorous. Local authorities will also be invited to prepare a local impact report. The Secretary of State must have regard to the report as well as to other matters that are both important and relevant in making his decision on the development consent order application. The local plan, for example, is likely to be both important and relevant, as indeed is the National Planning Policy Framework.

It is essential that sustainable development should go ahead with the minimum of delay. That is why we have brought forward this new power. We also think that it is appropriate to have further public and parliamentary scrutiny on how this new power should be used. That is why we have consulted recently on the types of development and why the regulations that follow and prescribe the types of development will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

Other matters were raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, who tabled some of the amendments in this group, has had a letter from my honourable friend Nick Boles which I think addresses most of the questions that she raised, but I understand why she would want those responses on the record.

7.15 pm

Baroness Young of Old Scone: All the points that I made earlier were taken in the Minister’s letter. Having read it very carefully, I think that he confirmed that the local plan was just one weight in the scales and not pre-eminent and that the Secretary of State would take a whole range of other things that into account. That means that the local plan has been sidelined. I was therefore unconvinced.

Lord Greaves: If there are letters floating around which are being debated here, I wonder whether we might all have sight of them.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the letter in question was to the noble Baroness. If she is happy for it to be made available to the Committee, then, of course, I would be happy, too. I presume that my honourable friend at the other end was expecting at least most of it to be made public because it is a very public response to the questions asked. I do not think that there would be any disagreement with my saying that the local plan and the National Planning Policy Framework are both likely to be important and relevant in these matters. We have issued a consultation paper on extending the regime to business and commercial schemes, seeking views on whether one or more national policy statements should be prepared. These matters are relevant to today’s debate and the answers are the Government’s answers.

I do not think that moving business and commercial applications to the infrastructure regime will be a blow to local authorities. As I have said, we expect only a

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small number of applications to come forward and for most of them to be dealt with by local authorities.

I was also asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, whether we had any evidence that change is necessary. Over the past four financial years, the proportion of large-scale major applications for commercial and industrial projects taking more than 52 weeks to be decided by local authorities has increased from 8% to 13%, which is quite a significant rise.

We are not proposing to make mandatory this route for developers—it is optional—and there will be a timetabled approach. Developers will have to decide for themselves whether to use the infrastructure regime.

As we set out in our recent consultation document on the new business and commercial category of development, the Government do not consider the case to be strong for one or more national policy statements for this category of development. The consultation closed in January and we are considering the responses to that, including on whether national policy statements should be prepared. I think that we will discuss those later during our consideration of the Bill.

I was asked whether there will be sufficient resources. We are discussing the resource implications with the Planning Inspectorate at the moment.

We also had a question on fracking, which has come up quite a bit through the course of the Bill. It is clearly a developing situation. The information that the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, gave us was interesting and begins to put a scale on what the ultimate development could be. At present, fracking applications will not be taken out of the hands of local authorities. Any developer will have to consult the local community and local people and the local authority will have the right of determination. A request would have to be made to the Secretary of State to use the infrastructure regime and he would agree to such a request only where the proposal raised issues of national significance. It may be that national significance and fracking will be one and the same but that gives an indication that at present we would expect this to be dealt with locally and local people would have a big say in what was to happen.

I think that covers the questions I was asked. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, also asked about fracking and, as I said, gave us very helpful figures from the report. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, whether she would be happy for the letter from my honourable friend Nick Boles to be circulated. If so, I will make it available but if she does not wish that we will no doubt discuss the issues again at a later stage.

Baroness Young of Old Scone: Can the Minister respond to an issue raised by a number of noble Lords on the question of when we might hear the Government’s response to the consultation? It is very important for a variety of reasons that that happens before the Report stage. “In due course” does not seem a terribly firm timescale.

Baroness Hanham: We have a number of consultations coming through to fruition, so I am not able to stand here now and say that the Government’s response will

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be available by Report. I hope that we will have an indication of what more we can discuss on this. If the response can be made available then I will certainly see that it is but I am not in a position to say that it will be. I note what the noble Baroness said.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I listened with great care to what my noble friend said on the question of who can make an application to the Secretary of State for an NSIP treatment. I will read very carefully what she said but, having listened, I am still puzzled as to why there is a difference between the existing applications and the new ones for business and commercial. Perhaps I might leave that there. I will read very carefully what she said and decide how we should proceed after that.

Lord Adonis: On the question of proposed types of development and thresholds, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pressed the Minister, I took the Minister to have made a significant statement earlier when she said that if there was to be a notable departure from the proposals set out in annexe A of the consultation document she thought it likely the Government would come forward and tell the House that before we passed this legislation into law. I am sure we will study carefully in Hansard tomorrow what the noble Baroness said but that was quite a significant statement. We look forward to the noble Baroness coming forward and telling noble Lords of the Government’s intentions if they intend to depart from the proposed types of developments and thresholds set out in annexe A.

Unless I missed it, I do not think that the noble Baroness replied to my amendment at all, which would require the Secretary of State to publish the reasons why a planning decision is to be decided centrally, including why the application is regarded as nationally significant. I thought that was a very reasonable and extremely constructive amendment and that she might even be able to accept it.

Lord Greaves: I would like to ask a question that the Minister might want to write to us about in some detail. She mentioned the figure of 13% of, I assume, major applications or perhaps some other kind of big applications that took more than 52 weeks. It would be a help to know whether they were major applications as defined at the moment. That is typical of the very general statistics that the Government give when we ask for evidence. How many of those applications would have gone to be decided at national level under the new system or how many would have been likely to go to that level? How many of the 87% of presumably major applications that were dealt with within 52 weeks would also have gone to national level? If we are expecting only an additional 20 or 25 in the commercial business categories, does that equate to 13% or what does it equate to? Some more detailed figures and statistics on these matters would be extremely helpful. I would also find it extremely helpful to have a list of just five or six applications dealt with in the past year which in future would come to national level, so that I can get my mind round what sort of developments they are and what sort of outcomes there might be.

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Baroness Hanham: I hope I did not speed over the amendment or that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, had not gone to sleep with excitement over it. I said that the Secretary of State is required to give reasons for his decision when making a direction. That requirement is carried forward in Clause 24. That is why I said I was not able to accept his amendment: it is not necessary.

Lord Greaves: Will my noble friend comment on my request for some more detailed statistical information on these matters?

Baroness Hanham: If I can get what my noble friend requires, I will make sure he and the Committee get that before Report.

Lord Adonis: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 77ZK withdrawn.

Amendment 77A to 77BA not moved.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, just before I resume the House, I alert speakers in the debate that, as we now have a speaker in the gap, there are no spare minutes at all. Please would Back-Bench speakers ensure that they sit down as soon as the clock says “5”, and preferably while it still shows “4”, so that the Minister has his allocated time to respond?

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.28 pm.

Education: Academies and Free Schools

Question for Short Debate

7.28 pm

Asked By Baroness Perry of Southwark

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the contribution of academies and free schools to educational provision in the United Kingdom.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to address the contribution of academies and free schools to our national education provision. I look forward to the summing up of this short debate by my noble friend the Minister, as this is the first opportunity for him to make a substantial speech in this House. I begin by declaring an interest as the unpaid chair of a commission on academies and free schools for the London Borough of Wandsworth. The commission has met with many potential academy sponsors and free school providers, and I for one have been often inspired by the enthusiasm, expertise and deep commitment of those who seek to change the life chances of young people.

We are witnessing a revolution—the most important revolution in education for many decades. Beginning with the vision in the previous Administration of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who I am pleased to see in his place, already more than half the secondary schools in the country have become academies. Most are converter academies by the choice of their governing bodies, and some are sponsored academies where schools

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failing to raise the performance of their pupils have, with the guidance and help of a sponsor, been made into academies where pupil success has followed. Such schools are often located in the most deprived and difficult areas, with generations of failure behind them. There are now 2,673 academies in England and 80 free schools are already open with more than 100 in the pipeline for this year.

Now primary schools are becoming academies and primary free schools are being established. There is an urgent need for action at this level. The DfE reports that 1,400 primary schools are below the minimum floor standard—800 of these for at least three years. This means that several thousand pupils are leaving the primary phase having failed to achieve even a minimum standard in basic English and maths. The weakest 200 of these schools have already become academies in this academic year and many more will follow. We rejoice to find that, since becoming academies, more than 40 of these primary schools have completely eliminated the gap in attainment between the children of the poorest and richest families.

Free schools, including the excellent university technical colleges, have allowed communities of parents, teachers, local people and a range of approved sponsors to bring their commitment and determination to set up new schools, to raise standards of teaching and to lift aspirations in places where all too often only acceptance of defeat and a lack of ambition had been before. Many bring innovative and exciting new ideas into educational provision, offering different and challenging forms of education which meet the special interests and needs of local children in ways no local authority would be able or likely to offer.

The providers of free schools are diverse. So far, 59 have been groups of teachers, existing schools or other educational organisations. This is indeed a policy endorsement by the professionals in education. Some 45 have come from parent groups; community, religious and local groups; and charities. Again, this is endorsement of the policy by the people who are most concerned and most likely to be the best judges of its success.

Not all academies have been or will be a total success, of course, although the overwhelming majority have achieved more than even their supporters would have dreamed. The British cup-half-empty media have seized on the occasional academy where standards have not been spectacular, although even these have often achieved more than their predecessor, but no one who truly cares about children and young people can fail to celebrate the life-changing opportunities which academies and free schools have already given to tens of thousands of young people who are lucky enough to attend them.

Some basic statistics demonstrate what great gifts have been given to young people by this programme. Overall, pupils in sponsored academies have increased their achievements by five times the national average for maintained schools. Years of failure in some local authority areas have been turned into success. My noble friend Lord Harris, in the wonderful work he has done in creating successful academies, can be proud of his Bermondsey academy, for example, where,

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with more than two-thirds of pupils receiving free school meals, 62%,—almost twice the national average—have achieved five A* to C grades in their GCSEs. However, statistics can only invite us to reflect on what this means in terms of young people whose lives have been turned around and whose aspirations have been raised beyond anything their predecessors had experienced.

Why do academies and free schools achieve where local authorities had failed? The answer is freedom. Academies are free from local authority control, which has not always been benign. They are free to deliver the curriculum which fits the needs of their pupils, not some centrally determined formula. However, their offering must be “broad and balanced”, and must include English, maths, science and religious education. They are free to set pay and conditions for their staff, enabling them to reward hard work and success, and to attract the best and brightest teachers. They are also free to determine the length of time pupils spend in school daily and termly: their curriculum is not subject to the time restraints which too often prevent local authority schools expanding their offerings to follow the needs and interests of their pupils.

Most importantly, these schools offer professional freedom to the head and teachers. Professional judgment always trumps bureaucratic prescription. Teachers really do know best. For the past 20 years or so we have cramped professionals—not only in education—with regulation, prescription, inspection, targets and league tables. None of this has worked to raise real standards. Indeed, we have been in danger of de-professionalising the best-ever generation of teachers. The system has forced them to teach to the requirements imposed from outside instead of to their own professional judgment. Removing these external constraints has resulted largely in the great success of academies and free schools: the proof is in the results.

Although the evidence is that the longer schools have enjoyed their academy and free school status, the greater their improvement, some have rightly expressed concern about how we can ensure that these standards are maintained in the longer term, especially when many of these schools will be exempt from regular inspection. It is my profound belief that the best form of accountability begins with the accountability of the individual to their own professional standards. I am however greatly reassured by the initiatives which have arisen voluntarily and spontaneously within the academies and free schools themselves. Many have formed “chains”, which are looser perhaps than a strict federation, although enjoying many of the financial and quality benefits of shared central services and shared governance, which others have adopted.

Whether they are a federation or a chain, these associations are proving to be a far better guardian of quality than many of the external official bodies which control community schools. The strong and successful schools in the chain offer support and help to their newer developing partners. This model is now widely adopted and provides excellent advantages for quality control. Again, it is a product of leaving the professionals to determine their own quality assurance. It will be important to ensure, however, that the chains do not

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become substitute local authorities with power again drifting away from the individual school—that “living cell of the body educational”, as it has been called.

In the Harris group, we see an outstanding model of this way of working. The Harris Federation has set up a complete system of raising teaching quality: first, in initial training, as a group of designated training schools, and then in offering a careful programme of teacher development, which takes the average teacher, through several steps, to excellence. The successful heads in the group are also involved in a leadership development programme for those with leadership potential, to ensure a supply of outstanding heads for the future. I cannot but feel that this is a more trustworthy and sustainable pattern for ensuring quality than an occasional visit from an Ofsted inspector with limited scope for development initiatives.

In 2010, my right honourable friend Michael Gove said:

“Teachers, not politicians, know best how to run schools”.

It has taken courage to put that belief into practice but the thousands of teachers, parents and young people who have benefited from that courage all say “thank you”.

7.37 pm

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for introducing this debate. I also welcome my noble friend Lord Nash to the Front Bench. Although he has skirmished at Question Time, this is the first debate on which he has had to answer. This is an engagement and not a skirmish. I should like to make one major point. Michael Gove has imposed on the English education system an enormous revolution, which is irreversible, by expanding the academy programme very substantially and by introducing free schools. As far as I can see, it will not be reversed by any Government and will not be taken back under state control in the future.

That, of course, started with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who realised that some of the most successful schools, when he was responsible for this matter, were the original city technology colleges, which I established in the 1980s—16 of them. He used them as a model for the academies and persuaded Tony Blair to announce a target of 200. Now there are 600, so they are rolling on at a rapid pace. In fact, when Tony Blair becomes very eloquent about this, he not only speaks warmly of academies but rather implies that he was their creator. I am happy to share the parentage because it shows all-party support.

Why are these colleges so successful? They enflame and engage people at a local level—parents, teachers, local communities and businesses—to improve the basic schools in their community. That is an enormous release of energy, enthusiasm and commitment, which is quite striking across all the country in all communities and in all parties. That is to be immensely welcomed, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is to be congratulated on initiating that.

The university technology colleges, which I have been promoting, are free schools or academies—a rose by any other name—and are proving to be very successful. We have five university technical colleges open at the

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moment; 12 will open this year; and 14 will open in 2014. We are looking at another 20 or so to be announced by Easter. We need another application round to be announced by December of this year to start some in 2015 after the next election.

These colleges are popular because they deal with children aged from 14 to 18. This is another revolution in English education. The rest of the world is moving slowly to a transfer age of 14, which I have just recorded in a book that was published last week. I draw it to your Lordships’ attention, and it should be available in the Library. In this book, I argue that the right age of transfer is 14, not 11, that the national curriculum, of which I was one of the authors, should stop at 14 and that at that point there should be four types of colleges: university technical colleges; liberal arts colleges, a vastly expanded grammar school sector for the academic, which would probably be non-selective; then something my noble friend Lord Moynihan would welcome, a series of at least 30 or 40 creative arts, performing arts and sports colleges throughout the United Kingdom; and then there should be career colleges, which come out of the FE movement, covering the other subjects. All this is releasing energy at the right point. This revolution would really be very significant for the English education system.

The other revolution that is going on at the moment is the extension of the school leaving age to 17 this year and to 18 in 2015. This will have a profound effect on the English education system. Education will be a continuum from five to 18. It is irreversible. It is going to happen, and whenever it has happened in the past, when the school leaving age was moved from 10 in 1880, to 12 in 1890, and to 14 in 1921, there was a huge increase in the number of new schools and reorganisation of schools. There is a unique opportunity in this large continuum to look at the shape of education. The instruments to do that are essentially academies and free schools.

As I said before, I am very glad that the Labour Party now supports this movement. It is very effective. One of the university technical colleges completed two years last summer, so we had 16 and 18 year-old students leaving. A totally comprehensive selection went in, with 20% special educational needs. In that school, there were no NEETs last summer: every student either got a job or an apprenticeship or went on to college or university. There are not many schools with that particular mix that can say that in our country. We know, therefore, that we have a successful formula, and I hope that that formula can be extended on a much wider scale. I applaud this great change that is now sweeping through the English education system, and I will now finish.

7.42 pm

Lord Storey: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for securing this important debate.

“Our vision is for a highly educated society in which opportunity is more equal for children and young people no matter what their background or family circumstances”.

So proclaims the vision statement in the foyer of the Department for Education, and who could disagree with that? The sad fact is, however, that over the years, social mobility has hardly shifted.

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To address the issue of low performance and poor pupil aspiration, particularly in the most deprived communities, the previous Government set up academies. These schools were given extra resources, extra responsibilities and extra freedoms. The coalition Government have accelerated that programme and, in so doing, dramatically increased the number of academies and changed the educational landscape. As a result, we now see a radical change in the English education system: more than half of secondary schools and a growing number of primary schools have become academies, free schools, university technical colleges, studio schools and, of course, local authority schools. In May 2010, there were 203 academies, and by November 2012, there were 2,456 academies. The scale and speed of change has been rapid and raises a number of questions and issues.

First, you can have all the different types of schools in the world, with all the best resources, but in the end, it is the quality of the school leadership and the quality of the teachers and their teaching that make the difference. A child cannot repeat a year if they have had a poor teacher; the pupil or student is the one who suffers. They cannot repeat that year or the study of that subject. That is why I was so pleased to read that the Academies Commission report, published in January this year, highlighted this point. It said, in referring to academies, that there needs to be,

“a forensic focus on teaching and its impact on pupils’ learning so that the gap between the vision for academies and practice in the classrooms is reduced and the words ‘academisation’ and ‘improvement’ become inextricably and demonstrably linked”.

The English education system has undergone continual change in the post-war period, with each incoming Government and Secretary of State wanting to leave their mark. If we have learnt anything about that 30-year change, it is that improvement is likely to be accelerated and sustained if there is broad ownership at local and classroom level. We need to consider carefully the management of schools: with freedom comes responsibility. The Secretary of State cannot and should not micromanage academies from the centre. In a successful academy system, we will see schools supporting and learning from each other. They will operate as a community of schools, each independent, but working best if connected to the rest of the system.

What of local authorities and their involvement in local schooling? As we have seen academies extend and more powers given to local schools, we have seen local authorities reduced considerably in their capacity and involvement. In the Education Bill, they were given a duty of care but, working with them, we need to consider carefully their role in a very different landscape.

I have drawn extensively on the work of the commission. I was delighted to see it raise the need for the establishment of an independent royal college of teachers. The college, pump-primed by the Department for Education, but completely independent of it, could help make the link between research and the classroom more explicit.

Academies are not the panacea for raising performance and pupils’ life chances. The Academies Commission report said that the evidence considered did not suggest

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that improvement across all academies has been strong enough to transform the life chances of children from the poorest families. There have been some stunning successes among individual sponsored academies and academy chains that have raised expectations of what can be achieved in the most deprived communities. However, it has to be about more: it has to be about the highest quality of teaching, with teachers who are well trained, highly motivated and—dare I say it—well rewarded. It has to be about inspections carried out in a fair and rigorous manner by qualified inspectors with classroom experience. It has to be about self-improvement: schools working together to develop their understanding and expertise and supporting each other. It has to be about all schools having equality of resources and equality of freedoms.

7.47 pm

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I welcome the debate introduced so well by my noble friend Lady Perry. I also welcome the Minister to his first short debate; we are quite civilised people here, and we look forward to hearing what he has to say. I understand that the Minister has form in this area of academies, having been involved in the very successful sponsorship of Pimlico Academy, which is one of the early ones helping to set the benchmark.

I will restrict my remarks largely to academies, rather than free schools. I want to emphasise now that I agree with what has been said already in the debate about the ways in which academies and other new forces in education are enriching the educational provision in this country, which is well needed and very important. Two consequences of academy status have been especially welcome. One is the very important freedom, referred to by my noble friend Lady Perry, to exercise professional judgment. It is marvellous that this is happening, and I hope that head teachers will not be too dirigiste, operating from the top of their own little pyramid, but will make sure that the freedom passes down to classroom level.

The second consequence is a promise by the Secretary of State that the reduction in bureaucracy which would follow would be to the benefit of academies. I agree with this: they have been a positive source, even if I now have a couple of questions to raise. One element of the way in which bureaucracy is being removed is the reduction in the requirement for outstanding academies to have an inspection every five years. I can see the point and the value of this, but they are exempt from that. Although it is sometimes an irksome discipline, I have to say that excellence and outstanding qualities in 2013 might not still be there in 2018. It is important that we have one way in which to moderate that, at least. I understand that Ofsted anticipated that that would be an issue and has now put in place for exempt schools the possibility of an exercise in which it will inspect, in paper form, at least what is happening in the school—a risk assessment, as it is called, will be carried out. It will be paper-based, it will achieve a lot and will help reassure parents and governors. That is good, but I suggest that one or two features of an outstanding school may not be able to be covered in a risk-based assessment of this kind. The first, for example,

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is the overall judgment about the effectiveness of a school; I am not sure how that can be done on the basis of a paper exercise. Yet it is highlighted in the Ofsted statement of intent as one of the most important judgments to be made. It is rather important that this can be done one way or another.

Secondly, I am not sure how a risk-based assessment that is effectively paper-based will deal with the spiritual, moral, social and cultural activities of a school. These are immensely important to a school’s character, and it is difficult to see that they could be accounted for in this type of assessment.

Thirdly—and this point follows on from the previous point and was of considerable interest to a number of noble Lords here this evening in previous debates on previous legislation—to be blunt, it will be difficult to reassure the wider community on the basis of a paper exercise that in one or other of the faith-based schools there has not been a straying from the boundaries of education into indoctrination. A few years ago, this would not, apparently, have been a real problem, but it is now. Some of our young people are suffering significant indoctrination—obviously in one faith, but in others too. One check on this in a faith-based academy, which may well do excellent work on the curriculum, pupil behaviour and all the other things, is whether there is a move towards indoctrination. It could take place, and it is essential that we are reassured that it would be picked up. There are other elements of the way in which Ofsted operates that might do this, but any reassurances that can be given would be very welcome.

7.52 pm

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: I, too, thank my mentor, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for this debate. I offer my remarks particularly, but not exclusively, in relation to church schools. There are 140 primary and 97 secondary Church of England academies. Although that makes the Church of England the largest provider of academies, it still represents only 3% of our primary and 53% of our secondary schools. Within my own diocese, some 70% of secondary schools as a whole have moved to academy status, and that is quite remarkable. In respect of academies, two of our schools—one Church of England, one ecumenical—were indeed ground breakers. In the early days of academies, lack of understanding by the Department for Education of church school ownership and trusteeship led to too much problem solving on the hoof once the legislation had been passed.

Our concern is that, with so much attention and energy being devoted to this ideology about school structures, the risk is that we divert our attention from the needs of the vast majority of children in our schools, especially in the primary phase. We need to frame our debate as being about the effectiveness of schools and the ways in which to achieve greater levels of collaboration and effective partnerships that result in more good and outstanding schools, irrespective of their status as academies or maintained schools. For example, in Southwark diocese, 88% and, in Liverpool diocese, 85% of Church of England schools are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted, with only a handful of those schools being academies. So the need to

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ensure that we learn the lessons of what makes for effective provision without limiting the debate to academies and free schools continues to matter a great deal.

In April, the work of the multi-academy trusts comes on stream. We welcome the Department for Education’s listening mode and are grateful for the sponsor capacity grant. However, it is regrettable that the grant is not really sufficient to fund adequately sponsored conversion. I hope that the Government take a look at that. Also, for many schools, anxiety has been increased as documentation is frequently changed at short notice, adding significantly and unnecessarily to work loads. As the local authorities gradually disappear and the academies and free schools have an increasing influence, if they are to succeed and if we are to achieve and ensure the quality that we are looking for, as the Government and all of us wish, it remains important that the department talks at a national and diocesan level with church schools and that both plan ahead and resource more effectively.

The Church of England approach in dioceses across the country is to recognise the need for real structural collaborations to bring about transformation in standards, resulting in effectiveness of schools. For many, this now includes setting up multi-academy trusts, but in doing so we must continue to find a way for schools of all categories to join the same MAT so that the expertise and capacities in our good and outstanding schools can be used for the benefit of weaker schools. I hope that Ministers continue to work with Church of England officials to enable that to happen.

Free schools often offer a good way in which to introduce new providers into the system and bring fresh ideas to the needs of the community, but there is a need to ensure that limited resources are focused on the need to provide much-needed pupil places in areas of population growth where there is a real lack of capacity rather than diverting resources to establish new schools in areas where there is no pressure for extra places.

I draw to the Minister’s attention the fact that there remains a continuing lack of engagement with BME communities in the free schools programme, particularly those that have been acutely disadvantaged in education, such as the African, Caribbean and Pakistani communities. Some such communities are attempting to seize the pre-school programmes as an opportunity to improve educational outcomes for BME and other pupils, but they face barriers to success. Other such communities remain largely unaware of the programme, and it is important that the Department for Education gives attention to the engagement of such underrepresented communities. Many free schools being established with the aim of improving education in deprived urban areas are enrolling people from disadvantaged backgrounds at much lower rates than other local schools. Barriers linked to financial expertise, financial resources and social capital all have implications in relation to this.

7.58 pm

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we have had a superb 25 years in British education, and the party opposite should get its full share of the credit for that. There has been a certain amount of “two steps forward, one

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step back”. They had their diplomas; we have our English baccalaureate certificate. I hope we get a step back on that, anyway. But generally the picture has been one of progress, and I remain immensely optimistic about the next 25 years. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Baker and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who have been the foundations for that—and that my right honourable friend Michael Gove has chosen to continue it.

I am sure that we all remember what it was like before that and how difficult it was to get schools to change. Some local authorities—Hackney springs to mind—actively opposed school improvement, and many others were ineffective. We all remember how difficult it was to get individual schools to pay attention to what parents wanted; there simply was no mechanism. I had the pleasure of speaking at something organised by the British Council in Berlin earlier this year, and it was astonishing to be taken back to an era when schools did not indulge in self-improvement. Teachers were not observed, and there was no mechanism for individual teachers to improve. So much is better now than it was.

I look at the creation of academies as the key to the next 25 years. Michael Wilshaw was a great head of Ofsted, and is at last being recognised by schools as their friend and as someone who has shared their experiences and understands what they are going through. When he finds a school that has failed, he is now not lost for what to do; he has a whole host of places he can turn to. He has a whole collection of groups and associations, of academies and their sponsors, who stand ready and experienced to help schools improve. He has individual academies that will take on failing neighbours and make them better, and that is a proven way of improving schools. One of the great discoveries of the past 25 years is that we can make schools better; we do not have to tolerate underperformance. Through the academy movement, Ofsted has been provided with the means of continuing that process of spreading good practice—of picking up the schools that are not doing well enough.

There are a number of things to which we need to pay attention, to make sure that we get as far and as fast as we should. We need to deal with failing academies. Inevitably, not all academies will do well; sadly, the one closest to me has been a complete disaster. I would have loved to have sent my daughter there but I cannot face it. It is still in the hands of the sponsor who started it, and they are still doing badly by it. That is not tolerable. I know that there are problems with the original agreements with academies, but we simply must put that right. They must be as subject to Ofsted—probably rather more subject to Ofsted, and its ability to bring in new sponsors—as schools that are not already academies.

Secondly, there is the matter of telling parents what is going on in schools. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland: we need to look at how Ofsted can become better at that. My answer to that is to get someone who has been a good headmaster to look in on the school once a year and to write to parents. Good headmasters know within half a day what is going on in a school at the sort of level the noble Lord,

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Lord Sutherland, was talking about. That can be a friendly and understanding process, which will give parents so much more than they will ever get from a line in a league table.

We need to make sure that all this innovation that is happening because of freedom is properly evaluated so that we can share the benefits of it. We need, I hope, to get some really good curriculum changes, but I simply have my fingers crossed for them.

8.02 pm

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in speaking this evening I declare an interest as a patron of the Haberdashers’ Educational Foundation, and as a member of the Court of Assistants of the Haberdashers’ Company. The company has a deep and abiding relationship with education. To its academies it has brought educational experience, a strong and relevant brand, a long-term passion for education, a commitment to excellence and an apolitical approach, as evidenced by my fellow patron of the foundation, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.

Its work is particularly important to me since it transformed Malory School, in my former constituency of Lewisham East, into an academy. Malory, now Knights Academy, went from being one of the worst failing schools in the country to the popular and successful academy it is today. It is, therefore, welcome that the aim of the academies programme was to challenge underachievement in the country’s poorest-performing schools. It was a development which had its roots in the earlier CTC programme, which was announced as long ago as 1986. While I was MP for the area, Hatcham College became a CTC after a long battle with Lewisham Council in 1991. Most of the original 15 CTCs have now converted to academy status.

The original purpose of the academies programme was to help struggling urban schools, as I have just mentioned. As noble Lords will recall, philanthropic sponsors promised £2 million and academies were given wide, necessary and welcome discretion over various aspects of the curriculum, admissions, teachers’ pay and conditions, independence from their local authority and, if necessary, multimillion-pound new buildings or refurbishments.

The Haberdashers’ Company first became involved in 2002. Hatcham College had for some time been seeking a partnership role with a local school, and at the same time Lewisham was looking for a sponsor to take over Malory School, whose GCSE results in 2004 were, as I have noted, the worst in the country. Conversion to an academy secured Malory government funding for a complete rebuild of the school.

Since 2007 both Hatcham, with its music specialism, and Knights, a specialist sports academy, have flourished. As my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking has alluded, sport is so important as a catalyst, capable of transforming many disenfranchised children into focused and successful young people. Hatcham College, due to its success as a CTC, was always oversubscribed, and remains one of the most successful academies in the country, with outstanding exam results at both GCSE and A-level, and with many students obtaining places at Russell group universities. In contrast, Malory School in the old days had a falling roll but, within one year of Knights Academy opening, the school was oversubscribed

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and in 2010 achieved an overall pass rate for all students, including in maths and English, of 40% at GCSE. I am delighted to say that many students now achieve places at university, as well as some significant sporting successes, both locally and nationally.

The Haberdashers’ Federation was innovative in being the first academies federation. The model, which has since been adopted elsewhere, was of an overarching single governing body made up of Haberdashers and Haberdasher nominees, parents, teachers and the local authority.

The success of Hatcham, Knights and the federation model pioneered by the governing body and SMT meant that the company was encouraged by the Department for Education to sponsor more academies. The company’s strategic vision, formulated by its education committee and endorsed by the court of assistants, was to provide “excellence in governance”. That meant that if the company was to be persuaded to open other academies, it would do so only if there were a Haberdashers’ school in the same area so that the skills of both the governing body and the SMT of the Haberdashers’ school could be brought to bear. If I could leave one key message with your Lordships this evening, it would be that excellence in governance is very important to the success of the academy and the pre-school programme.

The key differential between council-run schools and academies and free schools is that the latter can concentrate solely on the education of their pupils and operate responsively and quickly to ensure that the best education possible is made available to them. Therefore, important as independence in direction, the benefits of academy design, direct funding, reporting to central government, curriculum design and admissions are, independence in terms of governance and the freedom that comes with that is also critical.

8.07 pm

Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, today is serendipitous. I am proud to be a liveryman of the Drapers’ Company, and today I was privileged to visit the Drapers’ Academy, in Harold Hill in the London Borough of Havering. The academy is sponsored by the Drapers’ Company and Queen Mary, University of London, itself an institution founded by the Drapers. The academy was formally opened by Her Majesty the Queen, who herself is a Draper, in October last year. I thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for initiating this important debate, and on her excellent speech.

I met today with the principal and staff and addressed some of the senior students. I was asked to inspire the students, but I came away inspired, and not only by the amazing transformation of what was a failing comprehensive school—a school that was the last choice of people in the local community, in an area where, at the bus stop outside the school, you saw children with other school uniforms going far afield. Now, thanks to a brand new building, new leadership and, most importantly, a new attitude, this school has been transformed. There are now many more applicants than there are places each year.

This has been achieved over two years, even before the amazing new building with state-of-the-art facilities was opened. It has been achieved because the academies

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system has unleashed the potential that is tied up in our state school system. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, spoke about governance. The board of governors at the Drapers’ Academy is chaired by the former Master of the Drapers, a retired general from the Army, and includes a housemaster from Eton. This is the state sector, the third sector and the private sector coming together to transform the lives of children who were previously written off.

Children in the old school were regularly excluded; today there are no exclusions. Today, even the most difficult children are given their own area within the school and their own specialised tuition and care. No child is given up on. In 2012, even before the new building, 62% of its students achieved GCSE grades A* to C, including in English and maths. Just two years since opening, it is one of the fastest-improving schools in England and it places an emphasis on science and maths.

I met such impressive young teachers, including teachers from Teach First, who genuinely enjoyed being at the academy. I witnessed a school with a bright environment and a buzz—healthy food, and healthy, happy children. They have a principal with an open mind—we spoke about leadership—who wants to take things forward with a plan for a primary school and a boarding house, and a plan to bring in a house system to engender healthy competition. I was told that in the old school, the failing comprehensive, none of the children wanted to go to university. When I asked the children I was giving my talk to how many of them wanted to go to university, virtually every hand went up.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government will press ahead, with urgency, in converting all our comprehensive schools into academies or free schools? The academies are a Labour Government initiative. I give full credit to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, this Government and my old debating sparring partner, Michael Gove, in building on this initiative. This is not joined-up government, it is joined-up Governments. If only we could convert every school in Britain into an academy or free school, with leadership of the right ethos, inculcating discipline, where children are not excluded but included, where the environment inspires children to aspire and where failure is transformed into an overnight success.

To conclude, my visit to the Drapers’ Academy has given me more faith than ever before in our children being able to aspire to a “British dream” and keeping this country at the top table of the world for decades to come.

8.10 pm

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for facilitating this debate this evening and very much welcome the noble Lord, Lord Nash, to his new role. As he will know, his predecessor developed a reputation for listening and engaging and I very much hope that the noble Lord intends to build on that style. I look forward to debating with him in many months to come.

As has been well demonstrated by this debate, we share a common passion to drive up education standards. As we have heard, the previous Government played

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their part in this. They were restless in pursuit of innovation to ensure that every child received a stretching and enriching education. We took radical steps to tackle failing schools and narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils. Our policies were firmly rooted in evidence-based initiatives rather than ideology; or, as it was said at the time, what matters is what works.

Sponsored academies were part of our reform agenda. They were set up to address persistently underperforming schools in areas of high deprivation, requiring a sponsor to assist with school improvement. They were, and are, a success story. I add my congratulations and acknowledgement to my noble friend Lord Adonis, who is sitting next to me and who has received much praise in this debate. He was very much an architect of that model, as we have heard.

Regrettably, this Government have taken the concept and redefined it to focus too much on school autonomy as a prize in itself. In doing so, it has lost some of the unique transformative power that characterised the early experience. The latest government research has shown that sponsored academies, building on the original concept of introducing new school leadership, continue to outperform other models. However, they are a small percentage of the whole and are now massively outnumbered by the so-called converter academies: that is, schools already judged outstanding or good by Ofsted which have chosen to become academies since 2010. This rush to convert all schools to academies highlights some of the essential differences between us and this Government. For example, we do not believe that there is just one model of success.

When I first took over as shadow Minister, I visited a number of schools involved in the London Challenge initiative introduced by the previous Government. Some were academies, some were maintained schools. All are now highly performing schools with strong and innovative school leaders. Indeed, Pimlico Academy, with which the Minister has been long connected, was a beneficiary of the scheme. The key success factor was the intervention and collaboration between schools, put in place to improve the quality of teaching. As a result of this initiative, London’s schools went from being among the worst to being among the best performing in the country. The success of such an approach is confirmed by a growing weight of national and international research which identifies that collaboration is the key to reform. However, meanwhile, the recent report from the Academies Commission showed that many of the converter academies which had been required to support a struggling school nearby in order to gain academy status have now broken that promise with no comeback. The same report identifies a growing trend towards complex admissions procedures which dissuade the less determined parents. As a result, it too often remains the case that poor children are served by a poor education. The research shows that children from a socially deprived background remain disproportionately more likely to attend a school that is classed as underperforming by Ofsted.

Therefore, we have concerns about the focus of the Government’s current academy programme. We are worried about the lack of emphasis on the power of partnership and collaboration. We fear that the early

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focus on underperforming schools in areas of high social and economic deprivation is being lost. We see a teaching profession demoralised and criticised when teachers are the key to improving teaching quality and we see parents struggling to navigate complex admissions policies. Therefore, I hope that the Minister is able to reassure the House that a more measured approach, addressing these issues and genuinely informed by existing evidence, will be adopted in the academy strategy of the future.

8.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash): My Lords, I would like to thank all those who have contributed to this important debate. In particular, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for raising this issue. Few know more about driving educational standards than my noble friend, a former teacher and Chief Inspector of Schools.

This is my maiden speech. I understand that it is customary for new Members of your Lordships’ House to make their maiden speech before conducting any business here. I have in fact already answered three Questions from the Dispatch Box. Indeed, at the beginning of the first Question, I was so nervous that I managed to thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for welcoming me to the House before he had actually had a chance to do so. I hope that I am not going to earn a reputation in this House for doing things in the wrong order. I would like to thank all noble Lords and the staff here for being so welcoming and kind over the past couple of weeks.

Until about eight years ago, my life was focused on business—specifically the venture capital industry—but then I started to get interested in the care of children and young people, and in education. My wife, Caroline, and I set up a charity to support young people. We support a number of after-school clubs, supplementary schools and organisations like that, but it seemed all to come back to schooling. We decided to look at the academy programme and I was introduced to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, a truly great man. He appointed us to sponsor Pimlico Academy and, at that point, our lives changed completely.

The school was, by any definition, failing. It had been in special measures, had very poor behaviour—there was one famous fight outside the school involving 400 pupils—poor results, very low morale among the staff and students, low aspirations, very little for the pupils to do after hours, a building that was falling down, leaked and was infested with mice, and eight days of strikes in the year before we took over, over things any two Members of this House would have sorted out over a cup of tea. Thanks to our excellent team, led by our inspirational principal Jerry Collins, the school has completely turned around, students are happy, well behaved, engaged in school life, their heads are up and their aspirations are high. Teaching is much improved, the results are much improved, and we have only permanently excluded two pupils since we started over four years ago.

Although the academy achieved an “outstanding” Ofsted rating two years after it opened, we still have a long way to go if the school is to become the truly

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great school that we intend it to be. To help achieve this, my wife, Caroline, has led a project to develop a new key stage 3 curriculum which is now being taught in Year 7 and a new primary curriculum to go into our primary schools. This is a more content-rich and coherent curriculum which we believe will give our students the knowledge, skills, understanding and cultural literacy they need to be successful.

Our fundamental belief, which I believe is also the fundamental belief of this Government, is that our children and young people are capable of far more than we have hitherto asked of them. If you had seen, as I have, 11 year-olds in a charter school in the Bronx in New York, on an estate every bit as challenging as any here in London, seriously engaged in a lesson on the great philosophers, you could not doubt that. Nothing I have been involved in, in my business life, comes close to the experience of sponsoring an academy and I will be eternally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and to another wonderful man, the late Sir Simon Milton, for giving us the opportunity.

I was delighted when I was asked to be a non-executive director of the Department for Education. When we arrived as non-executives in 2010 there was no doubt that the senior civil servants thought we were people to be managed rather than engaged with, but over time we have worked increasingly well together and are now all working closely as a team. So when, rather surprisingly, my right honourable friend asked me to do this job, it was something that I just had to do because it seemed like a natural progression.

A society where 40% of our young people do not even get the basic qualifications, where we have 1 million NEETS, where it takes two years and seven months from entering care for a child to be adopted and a year longer for a black child, where many of our children who leave care rebound quickly into the criminal justice system, where children with SEN are sometimes misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all and where their parents have to fight every step of the way to get the provision they need, where children go missing from care and end up the victims of dreadful sexual exploitation and where gangs of our young people are committing vicious murders on each other in our streets as happened only a week ago to one of our former pupils in Pimlico, such a society struggles to call itself civilised. It is a great honour to be a Member of your Lordships’ House, which I know cares deeply about these issues.

Turning to the subject of the debate tonight, it has been delightful to hear such a consensus in favour of academies and free schools. All my best points have, of course, already been made. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her welcome and assure her that I intend to take a listening approach; I, too, look forward to debating with her on many future occasions. I would also like to thank the previous Government for taking the CTCs initiated by my noble friend Lord Baker and developing them under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, into the academy product, a product that this Government have unashamedly developed in terms of numbers and also across primary academies, free schools, UTCs, special academies and studio schools.

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At the risk of repetition, I will give a few statistics. There are now 2,673 academies open in England, of which 618 are sponsored and 2,055 are converters. Over 50% of all secondary schools are academies and there are 505 sponsors. Some 25% of sponsored academies in chains have an “outstanding” Ofsted rating. Sponsored academies are improving their GCSE results five times faster than other schools. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells will be pleased to hear that 89 converter academies are now sponsoring other schools. There are 80 free schools open, with a total capacity of 34,000 pupils, and over 100 more are due to open later this year and beyond. Half of the free schools open are in the 30% most deprived communities and over half are in areas of severe basic need. Free schools are in great demand: 75 per cent of the schools which opened in September 2011 were oversubscribed for entry last year. However, I note the comments made by the right reverend Prelate about the need for more free schools in BAME communities.

My noble friend Lord Baker spoke somewhat passionately about UTCs. Five of these are now open and 26 more are planned. There are 17 studio schools open with 16 more planned, and 63 special academies open with 50 more planned. We have opened the first alternative-provision free school, and the first specialist maths school is due to open in 2014. I would like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that we intend to continue with the pace of reform. The Government understand, as several noble Lords have acknowledged, that parents know what is best for their children. They must have choices and if there are not the schools that they want in the area they must be free to create more.

I am delighted to hear what my noble friend Lady Perry said about professional judgment always trumping bureaucratic prescription, and what my noble friend Lord Storey and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said about the importance of freedom for teachers. This Government believe that teachers, head teachers and governors, not politicians and bureaucrats, should decide how schools are run and should have the freedom to make a difference to the lives of their pupils. The best ideas in schools come from schools themselves. I have noticed that the best schools often have the same characteristics: a broad and balanced curriculum, high aspiration, a longer school day, plenty of extracurricular and sporting activities, and good engagement with the local business community. We are keen for all schools to emulate what the best schools do. The evidence from abroad shows that strong autonomy for teachers, combined with accountability, delivers results. On accountability, I note the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, about the Ofsted inspection regime, and his other concerns, which, I can assure him, the Government take seriously. Regarding what my noble friend Lord Lucas said, I can assure him that we will take a tough approach to academy failure.

Academies are having a dramatic effect on results, particularly where new sponsors have taken on formerly underperforming schools. These sponsors challenge traditional thinking and have no truck with a culture of low expectations. There are plenty of examples of schools that have improved their performance over the

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past year alone by over 20%. However, there is still much more to do. We have already turned 200 of the worst-performing primary schools into academies supported by a strong sponsor. However, too many children are still suffering from a mediocre education. We therefore want to go further, as my noble friend Lady Perry said, and tackle more underperforming primary schools and pair them up with a high-quality sponsor. My noble friend Lord Moynihan made the vital point about the importance of governors. I can assure him that this is something that we will focus on intensely.