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Grand Committee

Tuesday, 28 January 2014.

3.30 pm

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Harris of Richmond) (LD): My Lords, if there is a Division in the House the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Order 2014

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Order 201417th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments,

Motion to Consider

3.30 pm

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

That the Grand Committee do consider the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach) (Con): My Lords, this is a draft amendment to the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2011. The order is an enabling power concerning charging for visa, immigration and nationality services. It enables the Home Office to specify applications, processes and services for which it intends to set a fee. Specific fee levels will be set out in separate legislation to be brought before this House shortly. For applications and services where we charge more than the administrative cost of delivery, the regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure. Noble Lords will have the opportunity to ask searching questions—and I am sure they will—about fee levels in that debate.

In accordance with our legal powers, this amendment to the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order 2011 sets out new applications and services for which we intend a fee to be paid in future, and clarifies the powers under which some existing fees are set. First, the order enables us to expand our premium services. These are optional services, offered to customers who want faster processing or more convenience. It will allow premium service fees to be charged for all applications where the Home Office is able to offer such a service. It will also allow us to charge for services offered at locations other than Home Office premium service centres—for example, at business or university premises.

It will also bring fees for certain Border Force premium services within the immigration charging framework. As a result, these services may be charged to generate additional revenue, rather like other optional premium services provided by the Home Office. For example, it will enable fees to be charged for the registered traveller scheme, in operation as a pilot since September 2013, which will speed up the processing of frequent travellers from low-risk countries.

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The order will also enable new fees to be introduced for the process of conducting a review of a refusal decision for certain applications. Such reviews are likely to form an increasingly important part of our service as a result of changes to the current appeals process being proposed under the Immigration Bill 2014. The Bill will reduce the range of immigration decisions that attract a right of appeal. However, applicants will be able to request a review of a decision to refuse leave. The order will allow a fee to be charged to those who request such a review. The fee will be refunded if it is decided that the initial decision was incorrect. The order is not seeking to predetermine the outcome of the Bill in any way; that will be resolved in separate debates.

We also wish to take this opportunity to make clarifications to the current fees order. First, we want to clarify the basis on which fees are charged for residence and registration documentation issued to European Economic Area nationals and their families. We also want to make clear that fees charged by our commercial partners overseas are within the scope of the charging regime. We recognise the benefits that managed legal migration can bring to the United Kingdom and seek to ensure that the fees for visa, immigration and nationality services demonstrate that the UK retains its position as an attractive destination to work, study or visit.

As I have said, the order provides the enabling powers to set fees and we will return to Parliament in due course to debate further regulations, under the affirmative procedure, specifying the fee levels that rely on the powers in Section 51 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and additional powers in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004, as amended by Section 20 of the UK Borders Act 2007.

I believe noble Lords would want to ensure that the immigration system controls migration, commands public confidence, serves our economic interests and is paid for in a fair and sustainable manner. The order will ensure that we can continue to strike the right balance between the contribution made by taxpayers and by those who use and benefit most from the immigration and border services provided by the Home Office. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Lord Bilimoria (CB): My Lords, I know that we will be debating the Immigration Bill very shortly, but I should like to comment on this matter of fees and the premium services that are being offered—presumably to try to make it easier. Speaking as the founding chairman of the UK India Business Council, if there is one complaint about the United Kingdom and our relationship that I hear when I go back to India, as I do regularly, it is about visas. This is particularly true of students, and of the business community. We have serious problems in that the UK Border Agency, as it was, was not fit for purpose and has now been dismantled. Can the Minister confirm that the levying of fees is a caseworking function and falls within the remit of UK Visa and Immigration and not that of the UK Border Force?

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Furthermore, it is quite clear when I come in and out of Heathrow in particular that it is very difficult; the queues are very long. We are not adequately resourced to cater for the passengers arriving in the UK. With this system, I presume that the Government are trying to make it easier for someone, by paying a premium fee first, to get a visa and then, once arrived, to get in quickly and escape the queues. Can the Minister confirm that? It is very off-putting, whether you are a tourist or a business traveller, to be confronted by those queues at Heathrow.

Quite apart from this, the Government—as I have said before—should surely be thinking about joining Schengen, which is much better value for money. It would encourage many more visitors to come. This government measure is a step in the right direction but it is completely avoidable if we join Schengen. That would hugely enhance the number of tourists and increase the number of business visitors. It would be much better value for money.

Next, from the point of view of students from abroad, Britain is a very expensive country to study in. They want to study in Britain—our higher education, along with that of the United States, is the best in the world—but both the fees and the cost of living in the UK are high. This has not helped countries such as India, for example, where the exchange rate has deteriorated rapidly and the rupee is now much weaker, making it even more expensive for Indian students. Having to pay an even higher fee for a premium service makes it that much more expensive for them to come to this country. The number of Indian students has dropped by 25%. Our economy desperately needs the income from foreign students—what they spend on fees and what they spend while they are here—which is estimated at possibly £14 billion a year. This is quite apart from the generation-long links that are built.

Moreover, while we are focusing on the fees, the Government are completely ignoring—again, we will address this in the Immigration Bill—the introduction of exit checks when people leave the country. It is very simple, with today’s technology, to scan every passport as people leave the country, whether they are EU or non-EU. Then we would know who has left the country and who has come into the country, which would also help to address the huge problem with illegal immigrants.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation, which certainly addressed a couple of the points I wanted to ask him. I found it extremely helpful. I appreciate that this is not the order that sets the level of fees, which will come before us again. However, there are a number of questions on this.

First, I entirely agree with the point made in paragraph 7.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, which states:

“The Home Office believes that it is right that those who benefit directly from the border and immigration system should bear a higher share of the cost of running the system and therefore reduce the contribution made by the UK tax payer”.

Noble Lords will recall that I addressed that principle in the anti-social behaviour Bill on the issue of firearms licences. The Government did not agree with me in

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that case and the taxpayer is shouldering a huge burden of millions of pounds every year for firearms licences. Given that it establishes a principle here, I hope it will apply to other areas of government policy, such as those I have raised previously, when appropriate.

The new provisions here talk about the new services that can be provided at a cost. The Minister said something about this but it seems to me that there is still an area of flexibility. He talked about the new optional premium service and where it could be provided. Can he can say anything more about that, or am I wrong and there is no flexibility? However, from what is here and what he was saying, it is implied that there is some flexibility in the services that can be charged for. I am interested to see whether there is a definitive list of those services that are not being charged for now but would be charged for in the future. That would be a useful list to have.

I was looking at the debate yesterday in the other place and one of the areas that struck me, and is something that I have been looking at, was the consultation. I did not think there was a consultation on these proposals. It has closed but it has never been published. As a matter of principle, it is always helpful if information on consultations is published prior to the debates on the issue because presumably the consultation was to inform policy and this debate is to help form policy. I would have greatly appreciated having the responses, or a summary of them, and the details of that consultation prior to today’s debate. Given that the discussion on fees will continue, it would be helpful if the noble Lord could circulate, at least to those interested in today’s debate, or place in the Library, details of that consultation and the Government’s response to it. We will not oppose the order today or pray against it because of that, but I do not think it is a good principle.

As I understand it, part of the proposal is that what the Government call “commercial partners”—and most people call contractors—would be able to charge for services they provide, particularly visa applications. They would also be providing new services and new fees. I hope that, when we discuss fees at a later date, more information can be given to your Lordships’ House on the method of calculation if we are talking about three new variables: new services, new fees and contractors.

I am curious about what appears to be an extended role for contractors in visa applications. Can the noble Lord can say something more about what work contractors will be undertaking that the Home Office is currently undertaking? Will there be a transfer of responsibilities or of work? I am not clear exactly what the contractors will be doing under the terms of this order. Does the Minister know which contractors will be used? Will there be new contracts to bid for? Who are the contractors, if that information is available? What will the process be and what will the work be? How long will any contracts be given for? The key point is that presumably there has to be careful monitoring and high expectations of the standards to be reached by contractors. There have been issues with some big contracts, such as security for the Olympics, which the Minister and I and debated on the Floor of the House. Recently, we have seen security concerns raised over

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one of the private prisons and problems with electronic tagging. I think there are multimillion-pound paybacks from some companies that the Home Office has employed to undertake work on its behalf. If this is an extension of contractors, we need some very clear assurances on what the monitoring arrangements will be and how they will be enforced to ensure high standards, especially if new fees are coming in to pay for those services.

That sums up the standards that we expect in the work being done by contractors. We also want to know a little more about the fees and what services will be covered by them. I hope that the Minister can answer those questions. If he cannot, I shall be happy for him to write to me. I have asked for a fair bit of detail, particularly on the contractors. If he could give me an overview now and then write to me, I would be equally happy with that.

3.45 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am grateful for the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. It is helpful to have an opportunity here to discuss some of the detail that lies behind this. The more exciting event perhaps follows when the level of fees is discussed, but this is the framework against which we might discuss those matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to queues at airports. Certainly from my own experience, while queues are still a feature, they are nowhere near as great a feature as they were. None the less, there will be people who wish to avoid any queueing and, for them, a premium service facilitates that. Part of the reason for fee-charging is to make sure that income generation is available to help resource UK Visa and Immigration, which is the body responsible for this aspect.

The noble Lord asked why we had not joined Schengen. This is a matter that frequently comes up in debate. Our view is that, while we can work as closely as we can with Schengen, we need to protect our own borders—that has been a policy decision under this Government and the previous Government—and we should continue to do that.

We take note of the level of student fees. We are well aware of the pressure that people wishing to come from India are under because of the fall in the purchasing power of the rupee. It is quite right to say that the number of students coming here from that country has fallen. We regret this, but this does not challenge our overall policy because student numbers from elsewhere in south-east Asia and China are up and, overall, the number of overseas students is increasing. I expect, and as the noble Lord rightly suggested, that this matter will feature in debate when the Immigration Bill arrives in this House. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has already advised me that he intends to raise it.

Exit checks are included in the Immigration Bill and will be debated as part of that. I think that it is well known that it is the Government’s intention to introduce e-Borders where possible.

I shall take up the noble Baroness’s invitation to write. I shall include the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, in that and place in the Library a copy of anything

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that I am not able to answer on my feet here today. I hope that I have covered the majority of the issues that the noble Lord mentioned.

I should say that the cost of production of a UK visa is £136; the fee charged is £80. We are still a long way from recovering costs on student visas, for example. However, we are in a competitive market and we do not wish to have a fee level that discourages people from coming to study here.

I have a note on the contractors, which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, chose to ask about. Overseas visa applicants can choose to take up a number of added-value premium services provided by processing partners on a commercial basis alongside their application. Many of these services have been offered on a small scale and developed over time. We plan to expand these services, so it would bring greater clarity and transparency to have fees. All these services are set out in the legislation. I think the noble Baroness was asking about the nature of the arrangements with contractors. It may be advantageous to write to her on that point.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: I must clarify my question: I was probing further on the nature of the arrangements. Will any new services be undertaken by contractors that are currently undertaken not by contractors but by the Home Office?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We have two principal contractors at the moment, VFS Global and CSC. These were retendered in 2013. From 2014, there will be two new contractors. VFS Global is reinstated but Teleperformance UK has been re-engaged. These were open-tender contracting arrangements. However, if the noble Baroness would like more information on them, I am prepared to write to her about the services they supply. I will make sure that that is done. I have some of the information here.

Lord Bilimoria: I thank the Minister for giving way. I wish to make two points. He said that the number of overseas students has increased. However, if I may correct him, according to the Times Higher Education Supplement of 16 January, the number of non-EU students at UK universities fell by 1% last year—the first such decline ever recorded. In the Government’s defence, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked if there had been consultation. My understanding is that targeted consultation took place.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My point was that it has not been published and we were not able to see it before the order came before us.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I will comment on the consultation after I have described the services. The services provided by the contractors are priority visa services, user-pay visa application centres, prime-time appointments, passport passback, mobile clinics and international contact centres, so there are a variety of things, all designed to facilitate people’s applications. What goes on under these headings is probably best put in the letter rather than my reading it all out.

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I must correct myself. I said that the £80 fee is for a short-term study visa; it is actually £298 for the points-based system, but the comments that I made still apply.

The Government held a limited consultation on this. There had been a previous consultation, as my honourable friend Mark Harper announced yesterday. A full public consultation took place in 2009-10 on the whole business of charging and a more limited consultation was carried out. We received 78 responses, mainly from representative bodies. The document will be published. I will ensure that we write to the noble Baroness with details of the consultation and, indeed, the Government’s response to it as soon as it is available.

I say to the noble Lord that we do not want to bandy figures about but the Government’s intention is clear: we do not want to impede students coming to this country. Our figures show that sponsored visa applications for university students rose by 7% in the year ending September 2013. Genuine students are indeed welcome to the United Kingdom.

As I said, I may not have been able to cover all the ground. The noble Baroness mentioned firearms. One day I hope to shoot her fox on that particular issue, but not at this juncture, so I have to take her chiding in good heart. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to write on the detailed questions I have been unable to answer.

Motion agreed.

3.55 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) Order 2014

Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) Order 201417th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments,

Motion to Consider

4.05 pm

Moved by Lord Popat

That the Grand Committee do consider the Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) (Amendment) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Lord Popat (Con): My Lords, the order will allow, along with other secondary legislation, effective enforcement against foreign vehicles that have not paid the new HGV road user levy as required by the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013. The levy is due to start from 1 April this year and is intended to ensure a fairer arrangement for UK hauliers. At the moment, when UK HGV drivers travel to the continent, they face road charges or tolls in most European countries. However, when foreign-registered HGVs come to the UK, they pay nothing to use UK roads. The levy will correct this imbalance and ensure that all HGVs weighing

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12 tonnes or more using UK roads make a contribution to the upkeep of those roads. At the same time, the Treasury is reducing vehicle excise duty so that more than nine out of 10 UK vehicles will pay no more when the levy is introduced than they do now. The levy must be paid before using a UK road. Foreign vehicles may pay daily, weekly, monthly or annually. The daily levy ranges from £1.70 to £10 depending on the nature of the vehicle; most foreign vehicles in the UK are sufficiently large to pay £10 a day.

First, I will summarise how the enforcement process will work. It is an offence to use or keep an HGV on a public road in the UK without paying the appropriate levy. Enforcement will be carried out by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency—the new name for the combined Vehicle and Operator Standards Agency and Driving Standards Agency—and the police. We will have information on foreign vehicles in the country sourced from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Since we also know which vehicles have paid the levy, we can combine these two information sources to target those vehicles in the country that have not paid. DVSA can use this information to help determine which vehicles to stop. Non-compliant foreign vehicles that cannot provide a satisfactory UK address may be required to pay a fixed penalty deposit of £300 before they are allowed to continue on their journey. Failure to do so will lead to impounding of the vehicle and fines of up to £5,000.

The advantage of fixed penalty notices over taking forward a prosecution is that they avoid adding to the burden on the courts. Furthermore, a significant benefit from the levy is that the ability to require financial penalty deposits at the roadside enables enforcement against persons using vehicles registered outside the UK, who are difficult to pursue effectively once they have returned to their country of origin.

The order builds on existing legislation. The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 enables the use of fixed penalty notices by police officers and DVSA officers where a person given a fixed penalty notice is unable to provide a satisfactory address. The monetary amount of such deposits is set out in the Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) Order 2009. The order before the House today adds a new financial deposit amount to the 2009 order of £300 for the offence in Section 11(1) of the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013.

During the passage of the 2013 Act, my noble friend Lord Attlee informed the House that the amount of the financial penalty deposits would be £200. However, since then, the Department for Transport has conducted a general review of the levels of fixed penalty notices and financial penalty deposits, which resulted in a general increase. As a result of these increases, we have decided on an amount for a fixed penalty notice and its associated financial penalty deposit of £300 for the offence in Section 11(1) of the 2013 Act to ensure that the penalty is broadly consistent with penalty levels for similar offences. I commend the order to the Committee.

Lord Bradshaw (LD): I thank the noble Lord for introducing this short debate on the road safety financial deposit order. One of the things that concerns many

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people about road transport is not the fact that they pay a levy, but rather that there are people who do not pay. They have all sorts of means of avoiding doing so. It is no good just fining them £300 every time they do it; there should be a means of reckoning up if a haulier or a company does the same thing time and again. I would like to know if there is any method that would prevent them coming back here to offend again. People do not like paying charges and will do everything they can to avoid it.

Otherwise, I welcome this charge as perhaps the first step towards having a rational system of road pricing in this country. The calculation has taken into account such things as vehicle weight and other factors. However, it might be the beginning of a way of taking more money from those who use the road, and rather less from those who do not use it very much.

Lord Rosser (Lab): I thank the Minister for his explanation of the purpose and objectives of the order, to which we are not opposed, and which is intended to come into force on 1 April. I am not quite sure that I have necessarily fully understood everything in the order; it may well be that the points I wish to raise will reveal that. Nevertheless, I will ask some points of clarification since the Explanatory Memorandum, which refers to the scheme as a whole, prompts a number of questions.

As the Minister has said, the order provides for financial penalty deposits to be applied where a relevant heavy goods vehicle is on a public road in the UK without the appropriate road user levy having been paid. Paragraph 7.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that, for an HGV registered in the UK, the levy can be paid on an annual or six-monthly basis. For an HGV registered outside the UK, the levy will reflect the amount of time it is intended to use or keep the vehicle on a public road in the UK and can be paid on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. This is hardly an earth-shattering point, but why has it been decided that, for vehicles registered outside the UK, payment cannot be made on a six-monthly basis, as it can for vehicles registered in the UK?

Since, for vehicles registered outside the UK, paragraph 7.2 uses the word “intends”, does this mean —I think it does—that a levy payment will have to be made prior to the vehicles being allowed to enter the UK? Also, are there many vehicles registered outside the UK which in reality are here for most or all of the time? For vehicles registered outside the UK, what will be the daily levy rate as a percentage of the weekly and monthly rate for the same vehicle? That is, do you in effect get a discount if you are paying on a weekly, monthly or annual basis, or is it a straight multiplication of the daily levy rate?

4.15 pm

Paragraph 7.3 refers to the police and DVSA officers being able to impose fixed penalty notices and to require deposits where the alleged offender is unable to give a satisfactory UK address. In the case of a fixed penalty notice, I take it that it would be the same irrespective of the length of time the vehicle had been used on a public road without payment of the levy. If

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that is the case, can the Minister say why that is so? Why does it not take any account of how long the vehicle has been used on a public road in the UK without payment of the levy? To an extent, that develops or continues the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made a moment ago.

Since the maximum fine on summary conviction is up to level 5, and thus well above the proposed fixed penalty or deposit, who will make the decision on whether the matter should be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice or deposit, or instead should be taken to court? What factors will determine that judgment? What guidance will be given, and by whom, to police officers and DVSA officers on this point, or will it be up to each chief constable or police and crime commissioner—in the case of police officers—to make the decision as to whether the matter should be pursued by a fixed penalty notice or deposit, or pursued to court? Is it the intention that police community support officers will be able to issue such fixed penalty notices and deposits?

To come back to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made, under what circumstances would a driver who was unable to give a satisfactory UK address be taken to court for this offence, as opposed to being asked for a deposit equivalent to the fixed penalty notice? What steps would be taken to ensure that such a driver, or the company concerned, turned up at court when told to do so? Of course, one of the arguments for the deposit is that it is very difficult to find people if they have left this country and gone back to the country from whence they came. There may presumably be circumstances, possibly related to the number of times they have offended, when you would wish to take these people to court as opposed to dealing with it in this particular way. How many fixed penalty notices and how many deposits is it estimated will be imposed per year as a result of this and other orders? How many cases for this offence is it estimated will be pursued through the courts? The Explanatory Memorandum leads one to believe that some cases of this offence will be pursued through the courts and not dealt with by a fixed penalty notice or a deposit.

Paragraph 8.2 refers to the consultation outcome and states that comments were received that,

“the level of the fixed penalty should be higher”.

Which organisations or trade associations sought that? The same paragraph refers to the charge being enforced against the driver. A reference is made in paragraph 8.2 to who was consulted, but it does not specifically refer to the relevant trade unions. Were they consulted—bearing in mind the charge is going to be enforced against the driver—and, if so, what did they have to say? If they were not consulted, why was that the case?

Paragraph 8.2 also refers to the decision, in response to those who thought it should be higher, to keep the level of the fixed penalty in line with the amount for other offences. Which other offences are being referred to in that context? Are they offences where the levy that has not be paid can vary, as this one can, where the vehicles are being used for commercial purposes and where the period over which the offence may have been committed can vary considerably?

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As far as the deposits payable where no satisfactory UK address is given are concerned, what will happen if the deposit is not paid, either by the driver or by phone by another party? Will the vehicle be impounded? What will be deemed to be a satisfactory UK address? Will the driver have to give his or her own personal address, or will they be allowed to give the company address if that is different? Finally, what are the financial benefits accruing to the UK road haulage industry as a result of the levy and its enforcement, under this order, on heavy goods vehicles registered outside the UK?

Lord Popat: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken for their support. There have been many questions, and I will try to answer as many as I can.

With regard to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, the HGV Road User Levy Act 2013 establishes the levy. There is secondary legislation to allow levies to be administered effectively. This includes SIs to enable enforcement. Enforcement will be applied severely where the levy has not been paid, and may include the impounding of the vehicle.

Is there a way toretrench the offences? The maximum levy fee is £1,000, or £10 per day. Hopefully, the £300 fine each time a driver is caught will prove a sufficient deterrent to not paying the necessary levy. We give the choice of paying on a daily, weekly or annual basis. The annual fee will be £1,000. What if the deposit is not paid? As I mentioned earlier, if the driver is not able to pay the £300 levy or if he has not had permission to drive in the UK, the vehicle will be impounded until the levy is paid. Either the driver pays or his company does. There are several ways of paying, including credit cards and cash, preferably in pounds rather than euros.

Another question was about why the fine is not related to the length of time that a vehicle has been non-compliant. There are technical and legal reasons for this, however we will know a vehicle’s history with respect to whether it has paid, and so can target enforcement on that basis.

Who decides what enforcement approach to use? The DVSA will decide this—it has a lot of experience of enforcing other offences. For example, it is no different from paying £8 to drive in the city of London through the congestion charge, whereby technology picks up a car that has not paid the charge and a fine is immediately issued.

With regard to hauliers who are repeat offenders, the DVSA’s targeted enforcement system will show the heavy goods vehicles that have previously not paid, and it can therefore target enforcement on those vehicles.

Lord Bradshaw: The experience, for example in north Wales, is that hauliers from the Republic of Ireland regularly flout the driver’s hours regulations, the maintenance regulations of the vehicle and the overweight regulations. The same hauliers come back again and again. Apparently, under present regulations, the job of enforcing these falls to the country of origin, so we are not able to enforce anything unless

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we actually catch the person doing it. I am anxious for this to be watertight. Impounding the vehicle is by far the most stringent penalty you can impose, particularly—and I know a lot about this—where the police officer has said to the driver who will not pay or say where he is from, “Leave the vehicle and turn off the refrigeration unit”. That usually leads to the money being forthcoming. Therefore, while there is some intelligent policing, I want to know whether we can enforce the thing properly.

Lord Popat: My Lords, under this legislation it is an offence to keep a heavy goods vehicle on the road without having paid. Impounding is one way of enforcing this. The chances are that a very small number of vehicles will be impounded because most drivers carry credit cards, or quite often they will ring the owners of the haulage vehicle to see if they can make a payment over the telephone. Over time, we will know if there are any shortcomings in the system and we will do something to improve it. The noble Lord is quite right that impounding vehicles for a long time is not practical, especially when the police have to look after the vehicles. I can assure the noble Lord that I will certainly write to him on this subject.

Lord Rosser: I will follow on from that because I am still not clear who decides whether the matter goes to court, as opposed to being dealt with a fixed penalty notice or a deposit. The Minister mentioned the DVSA but I was not sure whether it made the decision of whether to go to court or it decided on the fixed penalty notice or the deposit. I am still not clear how that decision is made. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred earlier to people who were repeat offenders. There may also be a case where you were able to prove that a lorry had been going around without making payment for some considerable time, which is presumably rather more serious than if it has been doing it for only a day or two. Who decides, and on what basis, whether the matter goes to court?

Lord Popat: My Lords, it is no different from the existing system in the UK. We issue a fixed penalty notice. If the fixed penalty notice is not paid, then the driver is prosecuted. It will be up to the DVSA and the police to prosecute someone who has not paid their fixed penalty.

Lord Rosser: I am simply asking what the situation is—I am not trying to make a point. Will there be no instances, even if somebody has had fixed penalty notices before, where somebody says, “No fixed penalty notice this time, we are going straight to court”? Is the only reason you will end up in court that you have not paid the fixed penalty notice?

Lord Popat: That is correct.

Lord Rosser: Is that an appropriate way of dealing with somebody who regularly offends and regularly does not make payments? Is there nothing that can happen before they end up in court and face a fine, potentially?

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Lord Popat: My Lords, it is no different from the system where drivers who have not paid the fixed penalty notice are prosecuted. If they do this on a regular basis the vehicle will be impounded, so there is a threat to them. Yes, we will have difficulty because some vehicles are not based in the UK; the company is based in mainland Europe. We will go through some teething problems on the issue. I am sure that the DVSA will find a solution to this problem. I will get more information from the department and I will write to the noble Lord.

With regard to the Northern Ireland issue that the noble Lord raised earlier, both the driver and vehicle operator are liable for the levy. This liability is joint and several so it is the responsibility of both the driver and the owners of the vehicle. Non-UK vehicles driving in Northern Ireland will be required to pay the levy. Those visiting often pay an annual levy that can work out significantly less than paying daily. The DVSA will stop vehicles to enforce against non-payment of the levy in the same way it currently enforces other offences. If I am not clear on this subject, I am very happy to write to the noble Lord.

The question was raised about trade unions and other interested parties in this industry. The British haulage industry has long requested that we seek to address the imbalance of the charges that British drivers pay when driving on the continent. It should therefore be pleased that foreign-registered HGVs will, for the first time, from April this year, make a contribution when they drive on UK roads. I hope I have covered most of the points but, where I have not, I will be very happy to drop a line to noble Lords. With noble Lords’ agreement to the order under discussion here, an essential part of the legislative package allowing for enforcement against those who do not pay the levy can be put in place. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

County Court Jurisdiction Order 2014

County Court Jurisdiction Order 201417th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments,

Motion to Consider

4.30 pm

Moved by Lord Faulks

That the Grand Committee do consider the County Court Jurisdiction Order 2014.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): My Lords, this statutory instrument revokes and replaces the County Courts Jurisdiction Order 1981. A draft was laid before Parliament on 18 December 2013. Subject to your Lordships’ approval, the substantive change made by this instrument concerns the county court’s jurisdiction in respect of equity proceedings. Equity proceedings, which are specified in Section 23 of the County Courts Act 1984, include the administration of the estate of a deceased person,

28 Jan 2014 : Column GC380

the execution or declaration of a trust, the dissolution or winding up of a partnership and the foreclosure or redemption of mortgages.

The purpose of this instrument is to increase the relevant financial limit in the 1981 order from £30,000 to £350,000 to extend the equity jurisdiction of the county court. This will mean that the county court may hear and determine equity proceedings up to a value of £350,000. We do not intend to change the current financial limits with regard to the county court’s jurisdiction in respect of other proceedings which are also specified in the 1981 order.

There are two objectives underlying this reform. The first is to optimise the use of judicial resources by ensuring that, where appropriate, cases are determined at the most appropriate level of the court system, commensurate with value and complexity. This will contribute to rebalancing jurisdiction between the High Court and the county court, where they both have concurrent jurisdiction, enabling the High Court to focus on those complex matters that genuinely require its expertise. The second objective is to reduce the number of equity proceedings that are transferred from the High Court to the county courts, and therefore reduce waiting times so that disputes are resolved expeditiously and with proportionate costs and procedures for court users. This, in turn, will contribute to promoting public confidence in the operation of our courts.

Before setting out further details about this instrument and why the Government are taking this action, I will briefly explain some background to the reform. The Government are committed to providing an effective and efficient civil justice system with a flexible judiciary that is deployed in the most appropriate way. As part of this, we set out our policy to reform the structure of the civil courts in a series of proposals in the public consultation document, Solving Disputes in the County Courts: Creating a Simpler, Quicker and More Proportionate System,published by the Government in March 2011.

Those proposals were based on some of the recommendations made by Sir Henry Brooke, a retired Lord Justice of Appeal, in his report, Should the Civil Courts be Unified?, published in August 2008. His recommendations were aimed at improving the administration of civil justice and providing a more efficient use of judicial resources. The Brooke recommendations included the establishment of a single county court for England and Wales and the repeal of the requirement for the Lord Chief Justice to seek the Lord Chancellor’s agreement in deploying High Court judiciary to the county court. Both of these recommendations were approved by Parliament in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and will be implemented by the Government in April 2014.

By statutory instruments shortly to be brought before Parliament, the Government also propose, subject to approval of the House, to implement three more Brooke recommendations, which are: extending the jurisdiction to grant freezing orders to the county court; bringing certain specialist proceedings under the exclusive jurisdiction of the High Court; and increasing the financial limit below which non-personal injury claims and certain Chancery proceedings may not be commenced in the High Court from £25,000 to £100,000. Finally, of course, subject to the approval of the

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House, we also intend to implement in April 2014 the Brooke recommendation on equity jurisdiction that is before your Lordships today.

With that background in mind, I will set out the problem with the current financial limit of the equity jurisdiction and why the Government are taking this action. Section 23 of the County Courts Act 1984 gives the county court concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court to hear and determine those equity proceedings specified in that section, subject to the “county court limit”. Proceedings may be transferred between the county court and High Court, subject to provisions in Sections 40 and 42 of the County Courts Act 1984 and criteria set out in Part 30 of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998.

The county court limit, set by the 1981 order, requires that equity proceedings above a value of £30,000 be commenced in the High Court. The rationale for the financial limit is to provide a benchmark which will ensure that only appropriate cases, mainly those with relatively high financial value and complexity, are heard in the High Court, thereby limiting the volume of cases issued there. Over time, however, the value of the £30,000 financial limit has fallen in real terms, as the rising cost of properties has rendered it far less effective than was originally envisaged.

In 1981, when the limit was set, average house prices were only around £25,000, which meant that the county courts were able to hear the majority of property disputes involving equity. However, since 1981, house prices in the UK have increased by more than 600% in nominal terms, so that, by 2013, average house prices in the UK had risen to more than £175,000, which is seven times their value in 1981, and to around £345,000 in London. The financial limit, therefore, has not kept pace with the rising cost of house prices and has become detached from contemporary property values, which have risen dramatically since the £30,000 limit was set. This has resulted in many cases of relatively low complexity being heard unnecessarily in the High Court. In some instances, cases are issued in the High Court only to be transferred to the county court because the issues are straightforward. In view of the administrative and judicial time taken to allocate these cases in the High Court and the time taken to reconsider them for transfer and the transfer itself, these transfers often result in delays in dealing not only with that particular case but with other cases.

Following the Brooke recommendations, the Judicial Executive Board, chaired by the then Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, considered the evidence and concluded that the financial limit of the equity jurisdiction of the county court should be raised from £30,000 to £350,000. The report was then presented to the Government for consideration and implementation. On the strength of the evidence and of further engagement with the judiciary, the Government consulted on the proposal in their Solving Disputes consultation paper. A majority of respondents, who included legal practitioners, members of the judiciary, judicial bodies and regulatory bodies, was in support of an increase to £350,000. In view of the overwhelming support from consultees, the Government announced their intention to increase the financial limit to £350,000.

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This statutory instrument seeks to give effect to that commitment. The changes introduced by it support the Government’s commitment to an effective and efficient civil justice and courts system. We consider that the £30,000 financial limit set by the 1981 order is too low. Consequently, with your Lordships’ approval, we will increase the financial limit which divides the equity jurisdiction between the High Court and the county courts from £30,000 to £350,000. The increase would mean that more equity proceedings are issued and dealt with in the county courts and may be transferred to the High Court only if they are complex. It could potentially reduce the volume of transfers from the High Court to the county courts, thereby providing efficiency benefits for the courts as less time and fewer administrative and judicial resources will be needed to allocate and transfer these cases to the appropriate court.

Court users, on the other hand, could experience a more streamlined service and a reduction in hand-offs between jurisdictions. This is because more equity proceedings will be issued in the county courts rather than the High Court, which would lead to fewer cases being transferred from the High Court to the county court, and the time taken to consider cases for transfer—and the transfer itself—would be reduced. I therefore commend this instrument to the Committee. I beg to move.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, try as I might—and I have tried—I cannot really find anything to object to in this order. However, there are one or two points to make.

I entirely agree that the consultation shows, and it is right that the Government have acted on it, that the equity jurisdiction should be increased. I have not practised much in the field of equity in my time as a solicitor, and I refer to my entry in the register of interests in that respect, although I studied equity at university with the then editor of Snell’s Equity, Mr Paul Baker, as he then was, later Judge Baker. It was therefore a subject with which I engaged at an earlier, though unpaid, stage of my legal career.

While there is nothing wrong with the order, the process by which we have received it seems inordinately long. The Minister referred to the fact that it stems from a report from 2008. The Government’s first consultation paper was issued in March 2011. It was a 12-week consultation period. The Government’s response was in February 2012, and it has taken them a year since publishing the response to produce this fairly straightforward order. This is not a political matter. It does, however, suggest either that the department is overworked and understaffed, or that it is congenitally incapable of producing fairly simple material in a reasonable time. Either way, there is a bit more to concern us about the process than there is about the change.

I was slightly amused by the notion that the real objective of this was to enhance public confidence in the system. I cannot speak for the noble Lord’s experience, which is of a different level from mine but, in my 45 years of practice, I do not recall anybody expressing

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their lack of confidence in the system—particularly in the procedures in the county court. That seems rather an ephemeral reason for a sensible change.

I will make two more constructive points, thereby briefly breaking the habit of a parliamentary lifetime. First, I suggest there should be some mechanism by which the level could be periodically inflated without the necessity for prolonged consultations and a ritualistic procedure such as we are going through today. Why should not the Government say that, every five years, the limit would be increased by the rate of inflation or something of that kind—there might be a simpler way of going about things—unless they concluded that it would not be sensible to do that, in which case they would at that point come back?

The second issue is of a different order, about the system as a whole and how it might be made more efficient. Here I declare a paternal interest, because my question is about the role of deputy part-time district judges who sit in the county court dealing with a wide range of matters. Have the Government looked, or are they looking, at the distribution of cases between the full-time county court judiciary and the part-time judiciary, and at whether one or the other might be augmented in order to facilitate the kind of access and quicker turnaround of cases, which the order should help in one, admittedly fairly narrow, field? I do not expect the Minister to give an answer off the cuff to that, but perhaps the department could look at it—and perhaps the Minister could look at it personally, with his obviously rich experience of the courts. It might be a way of improving the system and possibly even saving some taxpayers’ money as well. Having said that, I have no objection to the order and trust that it will prove effective in assisting litigants, containing costs and helping the system work more efficiently.

4.45 pm

Lord Faulks: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. I am glad that he was taught equity by such a distinguished teacher. He will know that for some these are difficult areas. However, he is sceptical about the aspect of public confidence to which I referred. The point is a simple one—namely, that cases that plainly ought to be heard in the county court should not be heard in the High Court. A lot of time has passed, property values have increased and, plainly, the people who are concerned in these disputes would expect them to be dealt with expeditiously and at an appropriate level by courts that are convenient to them rather than at the county court. That is the element of public confidence—a speedy, convenient process.

As to the mechanism, a lot of time has elapsed and property prices have increased far more quickly than they used to. I take the noble Lord’s point that the mechanism might appear to be a little laborious. However, there was a widespread consultation and, although it may seem in retrospect that these things should be done more quickly, the consultation included judicial and legal bodies, regulatory bodies, representative bodies, local authorities, mediators and mediation advocates, academics, citizens advice bureaux, financial organisations, government departments and agencies and, indeed, members of the public. Although the majority were

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very much in favour of this move, different views needed to be considered. No doubt the question of the appropriate level of expertise had also to be considered.

In terms of the judiciary, the noble Lord makes the point that consideration might be given to the deployment of deputy judges and declared his interest appropriately in that. The question of the appropriate expertise is considered by the Judicial College, which always considers any training requirements needed for the judiciary to consider equity proceedings of a value up to £350,000. However, of course, if a county court judge considers that a case is particularly complex, it is still possible for him or her to transfer the matter up to the High Court under Section 42 of the County Courts Act 1984, so there is still that possibility. I will, of course, take his comments about the deployment of judges back to the department. I know that the Ministry of Justice always considers how best to use the available judicial talent at all levels, as I indicated in my opening remarks.

I hope that I have dealt with all the points that the noble Lord raised. In the light of those observations, I hope that the House will approve this draft order. I commend it to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

District Electoral Areas (Northern Ireland) Order 2014

District Electoral Areas (Northern Ireland) Order 201417th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments,

Motion to Consider

4.50 pm

Moved by Baroness Randerson

That the Grand Committee do consider the District Electoral Areas (Northern Ireland) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Wales Office (Baroness Randerson) (LD): My Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, as part of the reform of local government in Northern Ireland, the number of local government districts is being reduced from 26 to 11. The new local government district boundaries were set by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Northern Ireland Executive then brought forward legislation in 2012, the Local Government (Boundaries) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012, to divide the 11 new local government districts into wards.

As local government elections in Northern Ireland use the single transferable vote system, these wards need to be grouped together into multi-member district electoral areas for the purpose of elections to district councils. Each district electoral area contains between five and seven wards, with the number of councillors it elects equal to the number of wards it contains. With the new local government boundaries, there will be an overall reduction in the number of district electoral areas from 101 to 80.

The drawing of suggested district electoral areas is carried out by an independent District Electoral Areas Commissioner. A commissioner was initially appointed

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in 2009 following the appointment by the Northern Ireland Executive of a Local Government Boundaries Commissioner. However, as the ward boundaries were not finalised by the Executive prior to the end of the Commissioner’s one-year term, he was unable to make recommendations on district electoral areas. The boundaries of the local government districts and wards were finalised by the Executive in November 2012. Since the District Electoral Areas Commissioner’s original appointment had come to an end, there was no legal basis on which to reappoint someone to the same task and so the Government were required to make an order to provide this. We brought forward legislation in 2012—the District Electoral Areas Commissioner (Northern Ireland) Order 2012—and the Secretary of State then reappointed the commissioner, who resumed work in January 2013.

The District Electoral Areas Commissioner is independent of government, to ensure that the process for setting electoral areas is politically impartial. The District Electoral Areas Commissioner published provisional recommendations, as he is required to do by statute, in May 2013. Following public consultation on these provisional recommendations, assistant commissioners conducted nine public inquiries during September 2013. The District Electoral Areas Commissioner submitted his final report and recommendations to the Secretary of State, who laid the report before Parliament on 11 December 2013. I place on the record my thanks to the District Electoral Areas Commissioner, Mr Richard Mackenzie, and his team, for all their hard work.

This order brings into force the new district electoral areas as recommended to the Secretary of State by the District Electoral Areas Commissioner. Schedule 1 to the order lists the district electoral areas, and no modifications have been made to the recommendations. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is an important order for delivering local elections in May, and I commend it to the Committee.

Lord Empey (UUP): My Lords, as I have said in this Committee before, this represents the end of a 13 to 14-year process, so nobody has broken into a sweat with the effort of getting here. It has taken a monumental length of time to get to this point.

Technically, the Minister is correct that this is needed in order to provide for the elections to take place in May. She is also right to say that commissioners were appointed and held inquiries. I do not necessarily agree with every one of the proposals, particularly, for example, the one in respect of Enniskillen in Fermanagh. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State has accepted the recommendations and they are here before us. However, they show, for those familiar with the geography, that a fundamental injustice has been committed with the designation of the boundaries for some of the councils. A glance at the map and a glance at the proposals for Belfast show that it has been gerrymandered in the most obvious and blatant way. Areas such as Dundonald and Ballybeen have been excluded from the City of Belfast, along with Rathcoole, and included, in the case of Dundonald and Ballybeen, with Lisburn and Castlereagh, with which they have little or no connection.

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However, that is not the matter before us. It is merely a point that I have made before and will make again. I suspect that more can be said when we come to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in Committee next week, although we do not know which day each bit will be debated. Nevertheless, I wanted to put on record my dissatisfaction with the fundamentals behind these proposals before us.

Lord Browne of Belmont (DUP): My Lords, I welcome the order and I, too, thank the District Electoral Areas Commissioner, Mr Richard Mackenzie, and his team for all their hard work in preparing it. Redrawing boundaries is always a difficult task, and it is not always possible for political parties to obtain all they desire, but considerable work has gone into this and the areas are now well balanced. Going into the statistics, there are about 2,500 people per area, with a mean variation of plus or minus 5%. Considerable progress has been made. I hope that the discussions next week on the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will allow the Northern Ireland Executive to review the role of the Local Government Boundaries Commissioner and, I hope, improve it in the future. In general, I welcome this order.

Lord McAvoy (Lab): My Lords, the Official Opposition, too, welcome the report and the order, and I endorse the Minister’s commendation of Mr Mackenzie and his team. It can be very tricky drawing boundaries anywhere, but in Northern Ireland they have been hotly disputed. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, has expressed dissatisfaction. I would be more worried if nobody had expressed dissatisfaction, so that is actually quite a commendation. My honourable friend Stephen Pound in the other place, who is far more eloquent and far more loquacious than me, has asked a couple of questions, which I would like to ask the Minister to get them on record here.

First, given that the Sandyknowles roundabout has traditionally been a key landmark in identifying the border of the DEA, Mr Pound asked for the Minister’s assessment of the commissioner’s decision to change the name of Sandyknowles to Glengormley Urban. Secondly, the commissioner and his team should be commended for their work in liaising closely with community groups in Derry/Londonderry, particularly given the historic sensitivity that surrounds polling districts in the city. However, does the Minister agree that, on this occasion, the commissioner should perhaps have listened more to the advice of local community groups and accepted the recommendation to change Rosemount DEA to Edenballymore? Those are a couple of technical questions. If the Minister has the answers, fine, but if not she can write to me so we can get them on the record.

As I say, this is a welcome step. It has been a long time coming, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said, but it is another step on the road to making sure that Northern Ireland is like every other place in the United Kingdom. Political disputes may go back and forward but there is general acceptance of this measure, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, was good enough to say. With that, I repeat that we support the order.

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Baroness Randerson: I thank noble Lords for their participation in this short debate and very much welcome the general support that has been expressed. I will deal with the specific points made by each noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, made the point that this has been a very long process. Progress has been on quite a knife-edge on occasion, but I agree with the noble Lord that this will bring a very big change. As the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, has just pointed out, this is an important step.

5.01 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

5.11 pm

Baroness Randerson: I believe I was at the point of commenting on the size of the change that is going to take place for local government in Northern Ireland, and agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, that this is another step along the road to creating a structure, form and way of doing government in Northern Ireland that we all take for granted but which has, at times, been very difficult to achieve there. We all welcome that process.

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, referred to a particular boundary with which he disagrees, and the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, also asked me questions about specific issues which came up at the public inquiries. I am sure noble Lords will understand that it is inappropriate for me to comment on precise decisions that have been through an arms-length, politically neutral process and through a period of public consultation followed by a series of public inquiries. Reports were written, decisions were made and the Secretary of State has not felt it to be appropriate in any way to intervene or to change any of those decisions. I met the District Electoral Areas Commissioner, Mr Richard Mackenzie, a couple of weeks ago, and he took me through the process he had used—his methodology and the guidelines he had worked to—and I am totally sure of the thoroughness and political impartiality of the process.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, very correctly referred to the difficulties of fixing boundaries in local government. It is difficult wherever you are; it is much more difficult, of course, in Northern Ireland in many ways. It is always a hugely controversial issue, because it brings into focus issues relating to individual communities, and people feel very strongly about that. However, as the noble Lord said, consideration of the Bill next week will allow us to discuss the move to make the District Electoral Areas Commissioner a reserved matter, which would enable in due course, if is felt to be appropriate after full consultation, a possible amalgamation with the boundary commissioners.

The noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, welcomed the decisions in this legislation. I strongly endorse these recommendations and I urge your Lordships to accept them.

Motion agreed.

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Scottish Parliament (Constituencies and Regions) Order 2014

Scottish Parliament (Constituencies and Regions) Order 201417th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments,

Motion to Consider

5.15 pm

Moved by Earl Attlee

That the Grand Committee do consider the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies and Regions) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Earl Attlee (Con): The Boundary Commission for Scotland submitted its Report on Interim Review of Scottish Parliament Boundaries at Princes Gate and Greenacres by Robroyston to the Secretary of State for Scotland on 30 October 2013, and a copy was laid before this Parliament on the same day. The commission also laid a copy of the report before the Scottish Parliament.

The Scotland Act 1998 requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament, as soon as practicable after receipt of the report, a draft of an Order in Council giving effect to the recommendations in the commission’s report. The draft order was laid on 18 December 2013.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered this order at its meeting on 15 January 2014 and did not report it. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has also reviewed the order and did not note it as being of special interest.

The order sets out the name, status and area of 71 of the 73 Scottish Parliament constituencies and the name and area of each Scottish Parliament region. The Orkney Islands constituency and the Shetland Islands constituency are not included in the order because Schedule 1 to the Scotland Act 1998 provides for them directly.

The order takes account of the changes recommended by the Boundary Commission for Scotland to the Glasgow Provan constituency and Strathkelvin and Bearsden constituency, and the region boundary between Glasgow region and West Scotland region. Apart from these changes, the constituencies and regions remain the same as set out in the Scottish Parliament (Constituencies and Regions) Order 2010. This order gives effect, without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the commission’s report.

Under the Scotland Act 1998, Ministers have no powers to direct the commission to make changes to its recommendations or to make provision in the order for boundaries that do not reflect the commission’s recommendations. The changes recommended by the commission align the Scottish Parliament constituency boundaries at Princes Gate and Greenacres by Robroyston with the administrative boundary between Glasgow City and East Dunbartonshire council areas and will affect about 20 electors.

The changes to the Scottish Parliament boundaries reflect changes in the administrative boundaries between the two council areas which took effect after the previous report on the Scottish Parliament constituency

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and regional boundaries, which was published in May 2010. The commission’s review was uncontroversial and only two representations were received following the publication of its initial proposals. Both these representations, which were from East Dunbartonshire and Glasgow City councils, expressed support for the proposals and there were no objections or alternative suggestions. The commission therefore decided to adopt its initial proposals as its final recommendations. This order gives effect to those final recommendations.

The order requires approval by both Houses before being made by Her Majesty in Council. The boundary changes will not take effect until the next general election to the Scottish Parliament, whether it is an ordinary or an extraordinary general election, nor will they affect any by-election held before the dissolution of that Parliament.

This is a short order which gives effect to uncontroversial changes and I therefore commend it to the Committee. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie (LD): My Lords, I think that I welcome the order. It deals with a very few acres and, as the noble Earl said, 20 electors, but it is important to get these things right. I want to whinge about the fact that I am an elector in the Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency as proposed for 2016. I much preferred being part of the Ochil constituency along with Kinross-shire. However, that was an issue dealt with in 2010, so the Minister does not need to reply to it.

I believe that this is the last time that such an order will come to this Parliament. Before noble Lords think that I am referring to a yes vote, which I am not, I should explain that my reason for thinking that is the Scotland Act 2012. I therefore ask the Minister for his guidance on that matter. If it is not the last time, the no campaign needs to start getting its act together about it.

The Duke of Montrose (Con): My Lords, I express an interest in this matter out of curiosity rather than anything else, because, around the north side of Glasgow, a great many of the constituency and county boundaries mark out the boundaries of our estate. A lot of them have remained so. That there is an East Dumbartonshire and a West Dumbartonshire is due to some of the interests that we had in the 16th century and they still remain. I am very interested to see this shift in the constituency boundary, which is marked on the back of the order. It looks like a map-maker ruled a line—I do not think that it is our estate, but, if it is, we obviously made a mistake and did not make the correct boundary previously. It is nice to see it being brought into some sort of line, so I welcome the order.

Lord McAvoy (Lab): I thank the Minister for his clear outline of the order. I notice that the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, took some delight in what he saw as the no campaign’s tactics in these matters, but the proof of the pudding will be in September when—this is slightly out of order—Scotland votes to stay with the United Kingdom.

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The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, bemoans, although not in a sour way, the loss of different estates. Perhaps that is because his family picked the wrong side in the various arguments going on there. If they had stuck with the Stuarts, they might have fared better in the long run. I apologise for internal Scottish point-scoring here.

As the Official Opposition spokesman, I of course welcome and endorse the report. If I was here in a personal capacity, I would advocate that, rather than go and be part of the Glasgow region, the area would be more at home in Lanarkshire. It is something that I might turn my personal attention to in the future if I get the opportunity. Having said that and having indulged myself a wee bit, I welcome the order and thank the Minister.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Members of the Committee for their response to the order. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked whether we would have to continue to consider orders of this nature. The answer to that is yes, we will have to consider them in the future, as Scottish parliamentary boundaries have not been devolved. As I have explained, we are bound to implement the recommendations of the Boundary Commission for Scotland, which is sponsored and funded by the Scotland Office. However, there is some reason in what the noble Earl suggests in that the Scotland Act 2012 devolved powers to Scottish Ministers to make provision for the conduct of the Scottish Parliament elections but not the boundaries. That is the reason for the confusion. I thank noble Lords for their contributions.

Motion agreed.

Commons (Town and Village Greens) (Trigger and Terminating Events) Order 2014

17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments,24th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Motion to Consider

5.25 pm

Moved by Baroness Stowell of Beeston

That the Grand Committee do consider the Commons (Town and Village Greens) (Trigger and Terminating Events) Order 2014

Relevant documents: 17th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 24th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, if this order is agreed by your Lordships’ House, it will become an order of 2014. The effect of the order will be to stop town and village green applications where there is an active development interest in land and enable them to proceed where a development proposal is no longer active. The order is part of our overall programme to streamline and simplify the planning

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system, which in turn is about our proposals to deliver growth. The order addresses overlapping consent regimes. Applications for town and village green registration can cut across planned and permitted development. The order will ensure that decisions on the use of land are taken through the planning system, where there is proper provision for the public to get involved and express their views.

As noble Lords will know, the Growth and Infrastructure Act already excludes town and village green applications where development is under consideration or approved. Under the main parts of the planning system—planning applications, development plans and nationally significant infrastructure projects—the exclusion is engaged by a range of “trigger events”. The Act enables applications for town and green registration to resume if a development proposal is withdrawn or rejected, as set out in “terminating events”. The principle of what we are proposing is therefore already established and was extensively debated during the progress of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. During the debates on that Bill last year, my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Hanham, said on behalf of the Government that we intended to extend the provisions to development under other planning procedures. We explained that we needed to consult on these extensions. Having done that, this order delivers on that commitment.

The proposals in this order deal with two matters. First, the provisions in the Act relating to local and neighbourhood plan preparation did not cover every eventuality. We need to ensure that all outcomes in plan-making are covered. That is why we are proposing a new catch-all terminating event for local or neighbourhood plans, which will ensure that, in those cases where a draft plan has not been adopted or made within two years of its publication by the local planning authority, the exclusion on the right to apply for registration of land as a green lifts. In other words, the opportunity returns to local residents. This is to avoid the situation where the exclusion on town and village green applications remains in place even where development is no longer proposed under a plan. This proposal has been welcomed by the majority of respondents to the consultation.

Secondly, the order extends the protections to local development orders, neighbourhood development orders and applications for deemed planning permission in respect of Transport and Works Act 1992 orders. What those measures have in common is the ability to grant deemed planning permission for development, meaning that a developer does not have to apply separately for planning permission from their local planning authority.

This order sets out trigger and terminating events for each of these procedures, to signal when a town or village green application must be excluded and when it can resume. If proposals are ultimately not taken forward under these measures then the terminating events will ensure that the right to apply for town or village green registration will resume. We think it only reasonable to introduce protections for development under consideration through these measures. Again, the principle of this is supported by respondents to the consultation. It makes for a consistent and open system.

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There are requirements within planning legislation to ensure that people have opportunities to engage with the planning process and that their views are known when these measures are prepared. These changes will apply only to applications to register new town and village greens. Applications sent before the date that the order comes into force will be unaffected, and the changes will not weaken the strong protections which existing registered greens have.

These proposals are uncontroversial and indeed have been broadly welcomed during our consultation process. They ensure that land cannot be registered as a town or a village green to prevent the consideration of development, or to frustrate and delay planned and permitted development. Instead, it means that decisions about development will take place in the context of the planning system, which provides for public involvement and where all material considerations are taken into account. However, it also means that when development does not go ahead, the right to apply for registration of a green will not be unnecessarily excluded. In those circumstances there is no reason why communities should not be able to apply to register the land as a green.

I therefore commend this order to the Grand Committee. I beg to move.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to this instrument, which takes us back to the issue of town and village greens. This is a matter, as the Minister noted, that we discussed with the help of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—our world expert—in connection with both the Growth and Infrastructure Act and the Localism Act.

In those debates, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, stressed the particular difficulty of aligning two disparate systems, the procedure for registering greens, as set out in commons legislation, and the planning regime, although the Growth and Infrastructure Act effectively aligned them in favour of the planning regime. We should restate our support for measures that prevent frivolous and vexatious use of provisions to prevent development but also our concern about the scope of some of the original triggers, and the paucity of some of the evidence base.

We also share concerns over the consultation process, a matter focused on by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I quote from paragraph 7 of its report, which states,

“We sought further information from DCLG about the timing of the consultation process. We have previously made clear our view that six weeks should be regarded as the minimum feasible consultation period, and that holiday periods should be avoided. The consultation process in this case included some three weeks in August. We are publishing DCLG’s responses …We note that the Department states that it ensured that those likely to be interested were directly made aware of the proposed consultation, and that no respondents expressed concern about the length or timing of the consultation. While this is welcome, it does not change our view: putting proposals out to consultation must allow for the possibility that potential respondents not previously identified by the Department are able to offer comments, and consulting over a holiday period cuts across this possibility”.

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I will deal first with the two new terminating events: where a draft local plan is not adopted, or a neighbourhood plan is not made by the end of two years. As part of the justification for this, the impact assessment cites evidence on the timing of plan preparation. Can the Minister expand on this point so that we know more precisely what that evidence is? We are told that no development orders have been made to date—I think that that was as of 4 December—and I presume this is still the position, so none of the responses to the consultation in that regard is based on actual experience. However, all in all, recognising the benefits of some consistency in these terminating events, we believe these should be supported.

On the additional triggers and terminating events covering local development orders and neighbourhood development orders, again we are told that the use of local development orders has been relatively limited. Perhaps we can understand a little bit what that means. How many actually are there? Given the circumstances where they have or might be used, what is the assessment of the practical likelihood of attempts to register town and village greens? It would appear that one terminating event for the draft order granting permission for operational development—that is, the adoption of the order—is indeed the trigger event for the local development order.

Similar questions arise over local development orders. Given their expected focus as specified types of development within a defined area or on specified sites, what is the experience of any TVG applications? Terminating and trigger events criteria are to be adopted for Transport and Works Act orders, as we have had explained. Can the Minister say whether any such orders have been frustrated by a TVG to date? Can she give us an update on the number of TVG applications? The most recent figures that I have show a drop from 196 applications in 2008 to 103 in 2011. These numbers must be seen in the context of some half a million planning applications in the year ending June 2010.

The documentation that we have makes reference to the designation of land as local green space under the NPPF and suggests that this in a sense might be an equivalent to a TVG application. Paragraphs 76 and 77 of the NPPF state:

“Local communities through local and neighbourhood plans should be able to identify for special protection green areas of particular importance to them. By designating land as Local Green Space local communities will be able to rule out new development other than in very special circumstances. Identifying land as Local Green Space should therefore be consistent with the local planning of sustainable development and complement investment in sufficient homes, jobs and other essential services. Local Green Spaces should only be designated when a plan is prepared or reviewed, and be capable of enduring beyond the end of the plan period”.

I support that. It goes on to say that:

“The Local Green Space designation will not be appropriate for most green areas or open space. The designation should only be used … where the green space is … reasonably close … to the community it serves; … where the green area is demonstrably special to a local community and holds a particular local significance, for example because of its beauty, historic significance, recreational value (including as a playing field), tranquillity or richness of its wildlife; and … where the green area concerned is local in character and is not an extensive tract of land”.

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I know that the NPPF is relatively new but how is that provision being interpreted and taken up in local and neighbourhood plans to date? Do the Government see it as effectively an equivalent to the TVG application?

We will not seek to resist this instrument. We are, of course, supportive of arrangements for local communities to be able to promote, support or object to development in their areas through a plan-making process. However, there is just a sense that this has unnecessarily tipped the balance against local inhabitants who seek no more than to register land over which there has been 20 years or more indulgence in lawful sports and pastimes.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for his support, in principle, for the order. I will deal first with the point that he raised about the consultation period. As he acknowledged, prior to issuing the consultation document, we identified a list of interested parties, who were notified of the proposals on the first day of the consultation period. None of them expressed concern about the length or timing of the consultation. Clearly we ensure, as we did in this case, that we act in accordance with Cabinet Office guidelines on consultation, and look carefully at the nature and impact of proposals in considering the length of time for consultation. We felt that six weeks was reasonable and proportionate, as the measures proposed here are an extension of measures consulted on and debated in the House during the passage of the Bill last year. The principle was there and in place, and we feel that the consultation approach that we undertook was appropriate for these measures.

The noble Lord raised a couple of points around the evidence of the need for the measures in the order. I will see in a moment whether I can provide him with some specific data in response to that question but the point to stress is that the extension of the trigger and terminating events supports the policy objective that decisions on the use of land should be taken through the planning system and related consent regimes. If we did not address that gap through this order, we would leave the system incomplete. It might mean, for instance, that a town or village green application could be used to block developments supported by a local community through a neighbourhood development plan and that applications for deemed planning permission in respect of important infrastructure works under the Transport and Works Act could be delayed or prevented. As I tried to make clear in my opening remarks, it is also about making sure that, at a point at which the application for development under either of those schemes does not transpire, it should be possible for local people to put forward an application to make a piece of land a town or village green. We want that to be possible and we want it to be clear when that should take place.

That leads me on to the noble Lord’s points about the two-year limit and why we have used that timeframe. We believe that a two-year period strikes the right balance and should allow sufficient time for local planning authorities and others to get a plan or order in place, including any amendment or consultation that is required. At the same time, it is not so long as to exclude town and village green applications for an unnecessarily long period that would place no onus

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on the local planning authority to undertake a plan or order-making expeditiously. This is something that we will of course keep under review as more evidence becomes available. There are powers in the Commons Act to amend the legislation should it become necessary.

The noble Lord raised the question of local development orders and whether their existence might prevent applications for town and village green registration. Parliament has agreed the principle that the planning system should not be held up or derailed by the town and village green registration system. Local development orders are prepared by local planning authorities and are usually focused on a specific area where the authority wishes to encourage development, for example enterprise zones. A local planning authority that brings forward a local development order must justify it or believe that, where built development is proposed or permitted, the right to apply for a town or village green should be excluded.

The noble Lord quoted from the National Planning Policy Framework document and asked some questions about it. The document allows communities to designate land that is special to them. There is no requirement for use of land by the public. I am struggling to understand this. I shall say what I think is the answer to the noble Lord’s question and if my colleagues want to shove that piece of paper at me again, I will go back to it. My understanding is that communities may consider using the new local green space designation introduced in the National Planning Policy Framework. Local communities can identify land of particular importance to them for special protection as local green space either by engaging with their local planning authority in the local plan-making process or by taking steps to bring forward a neighbourhood plan. My interpretation of that is that if, as part of drawing up a local plan, a local community designates an area in that way as part of that framework, it is then given the equivalent status of a town and village green.

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The noble Lord asked about recent data on TVG applications. Defra has obtained and published data up to 2011. New data covering 2011 to 2013 will be published in the coming weeks. He asked whether any TWA orders have been frustrated to date by TVG applications. The answer is no but inclusion of TWA applications in the legislation is a precautionary measure that will ensure that the TVG application process is in line with the planning system in all circumstances, the point being that this is about principle as much as it is about other things. I can write to the noble Lord if there is anything further that I need to tell him on that.

I need to correct something that I said earlier. Local green space does not have the same protection as that involved in registration as a town and village green but has similar protection to the green belt. That is the relevant comparison, so I was wrong in my previous comment. The relevant comparison is with the green belt and not with the town and village green. I hope that I have covered most of the points that the noble Lord raised. As I say, if I can add further specific points in a letter to supplement my comments, I will do so.

In conclusion, the introduction of this order will ensure a consistent approach to town and village green registration in situations where a development is proposed or permitted. It will help to stop the potential for misuse of town and village green applications to undermine planned development. It will address overlapping consent regimes and reduce delay, uncertainty and cost to all concerned. It is an important precautionary measure, as I have already said, and will not affect the existing strong protection for registered town and village greens.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.48 pm.