House of Lords
Wednesday, 8 October 2008.
The House met at three o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.
Death of a Member
Armed Forces: Wellington Barracks
My Lords, usage of the Defence Estate is reviewed continuously. However, under current plans, Wellington Barracks will remain the key location in London for the execution of state ceremonial and public duties for the foreseeable future. There are no plans to dispose of Wellington Barracks.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that a number of us visited the barracks in the summer and were quite appalled at the conditions we found there? The sports hall had been out of use for eight weeks because 300 beds had been set out there for the extra troops required. Those 300 troops had the use of only 13 showers and lavatories and there were three washing machines for 500 soldiers. In the basement area, which often floods, cars that had to be parked there had been affected by limescale. Is this not an utter disgrace?
My Lords, there are problems at Wellington Barracks, which are part of the legacy of difficulties on accommodation generally which have been around for many years. The MoD does want to improve the situation at the barracks, but it is not easy, partly because of the configuration of the buildings and the size of the site, and because some of the structures are Grade II listed. Improvements are in train at the moment. Band practice rooms are being brought up to standard, a general health estate improvement plan is in place and nearly £10 million has been spent this year, but clearly more needs to be done. The MoD is spending a great deal of money on improving accommodation generally and on trying to deal with the significant backlog of work that has been necessary for many years.
My Lords, on the rationalisation of barracks in London, with the expiry of the lease at St John’s Wood, I understand that the King’s Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery is being moved to Woolwich. Would it not make more sense for the King’s Troop to be based more centrally at, say, Regent’s Park Barracks, which I believe it would prefer? What is the future of the Regent’s Park Barracks?
My Lords, it is correct that the King’s Troop is moving from St John’s Barracks to Woolwich. The intention is to spend a great deal of money improving the situation at Woolwich and to build new accommodation with en-suite single rooms for those people who are transferring. There will be 422 new units of such accommodation at Woolwich. It is a suitable site, not least because there will be better conditions for the animals that will be going there and good facilities for riding. Overall it will be a better situation. On Regent’s Park, it is well known that the US Embassy was considering acquiring that site from us. That is not going to happen now but it is still possible that we might sell that site.
My Lords, following on from my noble friend’s question, can the Minister confirm that money raised from the sale of the Chelsea Barracks site is ring-fenced for spending on military accommodation renovations and will not be appropriated for other purposes by the Treasury?
My Lords, I am pleased that we have raised so much money from the sale of Chelsea Barracks. As someone pointed out to me a few minutes ago, had we not sold them at that time we might not have got quite as much money. The Government have gone on record as saying that we will spend £8 billion over the next 10 years on the legacy issues surrounding accommodation for our Armed Services, which has been neglected over many years. The amount of commitment we have shown since 2003 includes the provision of 29,000 new or upgraded single living spaces. That £8 billion over the next 10 years is a clear example of our commitment. The money from the sale of Chelsea Barracks will help in providing extra accommodation.
My Lords, many Members of the House will be shocked by the statement made by my noble friend Lady Sharples about the conditions at Wellington Barracks. I do not know whether the Minister has been there but, in view of their particular significance to any visitors to this country—not least in the ceremonial role, where soldiers have to emerge spick and span on parade from those barracks so regularly—would it not be excellent if she visited Wellington Barracks and then came out and said, “Action this day”?
My Lords, I have spent the whole of September visiting accommodation and units as well as industry up and down the country. There is a lot to see. I have seen some of the difficulties we have with accommodation but also some of the many significant advances that have been made. I mentioned earlier that there are now 29,000 units of en suite accommodation for single people. That was unheard of in our armed services not too long ago. The Government’s record is clear: the backlog is very severe, but significant steps have been taken to improve the situation.
My Lords, we are trying to ensure that the best use is made of the accommodation that exists so that those of our Armed Forces who are involved in ceremonial state occasions or some of the public duties are based as centrally as possible. Those who are not so involved can manage well on the periphery of London. That is what some of the discussion has been about. Overall, at the end of this procedure, we will end up with better accommodation across the board and with people situated in places that are most convenient for them.
My Lords, with that in mind, can the Minister confirm that action is indeed being taken at Wellington Barracks? I paid a visit on the same day as my noble friend Lady Sharples. I understand that funds are actually in place—“this day”, as my noble friend Lord King put it—to replenish unit showers and some of the accommodation that we saw. I understand that it should not be too great a step for the Minister. Would she be kind enough to push further?
My Lords, I mentioned in my earlier reply that £10 million, a significant amount of money, is being spent this year on some of the general improvements that will have a direct impact on some of the problems that noble Lords have referred to.
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
What is their current policy towards Zimbabwe.
My Lords, the Foreign Secretary’s Statement to the House of Commons on Monday made our position clear: Zimbabwe’s people want the agreement between the MDC and ZANU-PF that was signed on paper to work in practice. That needs a Cabinet to be appointed without further delay which reforms Zimbabwe’s economic management and the behaviour of its security forces. We continue to provide humanitarian relief to the Zimbabwean people. We remain ready to support recovery when a new Government show commitment to reform.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that Kofi Annan has recently criticised the African Union for not confirming the MDC’s victory in the March election? He said:
“The African Union should have endorsed the results and said to Mugabe: you are not a legally elected president”.
What part is now being played by the chairman of the African Union Commission and the UN special envoy as members of the reference group in pressing for the urgent implementation of the power-sharing agreement?
My Lords, I had the opportunity in New York two weeks ago to talk to the chairman of the African Union and the head of its executive along with the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General. All of them are watching this situation with concern. They believe that President Mbeki remains the SADC and AU mediator, but they are fully aware that time is elapsing and that there is still no agreement on the Cabinet, which will break the agreement if it is not resolved within weeks.
My Lords, I am able to assure the noble Baroness that that seems to be the case. The reports that we are receiving from Harare are that the UN and NGOs now feel able to distribute freely, which is a good thing because the food failure means that while 2 million people are currently being fed, that figure will shortly grow to as many as 5 million.
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the imperative is for the agreement to be met in full and that, as each day passes, pessimism overtakes optimism? Will he therefore lend his full support and authority to former president Thabo Mbeki to get this agreement going? Whatever happened in the past, it is essential that full support is given by everybody to get the agreement up and running now.
My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that Thabo Mbeki got an agreement signed. I think that former President Mbeki and the rest of Africa feel that it is still on his shoulders, despite his own stepping-down from office, to get early completion of the agreement on the sharing of the Cabinet portfolios so that Zimbabwe can have a Government and move forward. There has been hope that former President Mbeki will visit Harare this week and we think it urgent that that happens.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Prime Minister-designate of Zimbabwe has been refused a passport so that he has been unable to travel abroad and explain the current situation to the African Union and SADC. Would it be possible for SADC to organise a United Nations travel document for him so that he can travel abroad for these purposes? Will he ask President Sarkozy to invite Mr Tsvangirai to the European Union Foreign Ministers’ summit next week?
My Lords, as the noble Lord says, it is quite extraordinary that the Prime Minister-designate is refused a passport by the very Government of whom he is soon to be the leader. It points to the hollowness of the agreement so far and the failure of ZANU-PF to come through on its side of the bargain and begin a process of genuine power-sharing. Mr Tsvangirai has been day by day assuring us that he expects to get that passport. If it does not come in the coming days, we will indeed need to reflect on the noble Lord’s suggestions on how we can push this issue further.
My Lords, obviously we welcome on this side any moves towards what the Minister rightly describes as a genuine agreement. There is not much time left, but would he care to speculate on when we might consider the lifting of the EU targeted sanctions and at what point we might press harder for independent media access? Given that we already provide humanitarian aid, and continue to do so, at what point can we begin to mobilise a vital and dynamic recovery assistance programme? What are the criteria that we are looking for in this very slow process, before we can trigger all those hopeful developments for the future of Zimbabwe?
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, we consider humanitarian assistance separate from the broader political progress. It is urgent to meet immediately, as long as we continue to enjoy access, the immediate needs of hungry people. However, he is quite right to press for the criteria for a broader engagement around recovery and the lifting of sanctions. My first answer is, “not yet”, as the conditions are clearly not in place for that; nor would just the formation of a Government provide those conditions. We will need to see that they are a Government in whom the MDC is properly represented; we would particularly expect to see ministries such as home affairs and finance in MDC hands, as was originally planned. We would expect an economic recovery programme which enjoys the full support of the whole Government and which is credible—that behind that political will lie the economic skills to get it done. Under those circumstances, we would move to begin to lift EU sanctions and to provide economic recovery support.
My Lords, what measures have Her Majesty's Government taken to inform other African leaders on what steps they have taken and continue to take to ensure a satisfactory viable solution in Zimbabwe—particularly those African leaders who, inexplicably, still support Robert Mugabe?
My Lords, I have certainly been in intensive discussions with many African leaders. As the noble Lord knows, many of those who claim publicly to still support President Mugabe have a very different line in private. They are all well aware of our efforts and we have a growing circle of sympathetic support. Everybody in Africa, whatever their differences on this matter, agrees that it is time to move on and that there must at the very minimum be genuine power-sharing in the country.
Young Offender Institutions: Zahid Mubarek
My Lords, the Prison Service deeply regrets the circumstances that led to the tragic death of Zahid Mubarek in 2000. The then director-general of the Prison Service personally apologised to the family. As a result of the publication of the public inquiry report in 2006, the National Offender Management Service is actively implementing its recommendations. As the House will, I hope, appreciate, I am unable to comment on individual litigation claims or any offers made during such process. Such offers would be made on a “without prejudice” basis and the contents are not disclosable.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Comparisons are odious, but in this case I believe that they may be appropriate. Zahid Mubarek was the victim of an avoidable racist murder while in the hands of the state. Subsequently, the judicial inquiry, ordered by your Lordships after consistent refusal by the Government to initiate one, found that operational and managerial failure by a number of named prison staff had contributed to the murder. Since the finding, the Government have offered an ex gratia payment, in line with European awards for breaches of the human rights convention.
Stephen Lawrence was the victim of a racial murder at a bus stop in Peckham. The solicitor acting for the Lawrence family asked for £320,000 in compensation, which the Government awarded while at the same time refusing a request that he made for £130,000 for the Mubarek family. Currently, the Treasury Solicitor is suggesting that the way forward is a lawyers-only meeting, adding that it is not appropriate to enter into correspondence on matters of moral obligation. Does the Minister agree that the Government have a moral obligation to the family of someone murdered while in their care, equal to if not greater than that recognised in the Lawrence case, and that that obligation ought to be honoured by Ministers and not the Treasury Solicitor?
My Lords, I agree that this was a terrible case, but I repeat that I am not able to confirm or deny any figures of any kind. In the normal course of events it would be quite wrong before this House or in public generally to talk about any “without prejudice” offer or otherwise. This case is not on all fours with the Stephen Lawrence case, but I can say that it is a terrible case and thank goodness some important changes for the better have been made as a consequence of this dreadful murder.
My Lords, I do not intend to talk about the individual case. The noble Lord will remember the passage of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, now the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. He will remember the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—the noble Lord was too modest to mention them—which the Government, after much pressure, eventually accepted, so that the Prison Service would be included under the legislation. Does he accept that it would have been much more helpful if the Government had agreed at a much earlier stage to those amendments? At least that would have shown that the Government were prepared to move on something like this, and on this issue, at an earlier stage.
My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. Zahid’s parents, Mr and Mrs Amin, have shunned publicity and kept a low profile throughout the ensuing eight years. His uncle, Imtiaz Amin, is the main representative for the family. I say publicly that our view is that all the family have acted with enormous dignity and tremendous courage throughout.
My Lords, this was one of the most brutal racist murders in one of Her Majesty’s penal establishments. Following it, the Commission for Racial Equality carried out a major investigation and found 14 major faults. There is now an action group and a system for monitoring. When is the Minister likely to receive the action group report? Will it be published to ensure that such incidents do not happen in future?
My Lords, substantial progress has been made since the CRE’s investigation into the Prison Service on this matter. We continue to make progress against the agreed five-year action plan. We will be reporting progress to what is now called the Equality and Human Rights Commission in December 2008, which will consider what we have to say and make a judgment as to what progress has occurred. We are confident that substantial progress has been made.
My Lords, surely the more any Government invest in the development of prison officers, the more humane our prisons will be. In the past 10 years, what investment have this Government put into the continuing professional development of prison officers? What percentage of prison officers now have a degree-level qualification? How many prison officers are working towards a degree or equivalent-level qualification? I recognise that this is a specific question, but the more educated prison officers are, surely the more humane they will be in their practices.
My Lords, I do not know the factual answers to the noble Earl’s question, but it gives me the opportunity to say that we appreciate greatly the huge service that prison officers and others who work in the prison estate perform for this country. I am glad to be able to say that since this Government came to power the amount of money that officers earn and the way in which they are treated are, we believe, much improved, but so they should be, as these are important guardians of our safety.
My Lords, one of the recommendations of the inquiry following the murder of Zahid Mubarek was that there should be a risk assessment of every young offender sharing a cell. Will the Minister confirm that this is happening at Feltham and, indeed, in all our young offender institutions?
My Lords, I am not sure that I can confirm what the right reverend Prelate says. I want to be careful in what I say on this but I shall, of course, write to him. On Feltham, where this dreadful murder took place, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons carried out a follow-up inspection in June 2007. As the House will know, the young offender institution had a very mixed record, if I may understate the issue. The chief inspector stated:
“Feltham has benefited from strong management, considerable investment and protection from some of the more damaging effects of overcrowding. Overall, staff have responded well, and it is a long way from the establishment described in our earlier reports and in the Mubarek inquiry. Indeed, some of the work and the approach is a benchmark for other young offender institutions”.
Banking: Lloyds TSB and HBOS
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as an adviser to a banking group.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’ Government what steps they will take to protect consumers in the event of a merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS.
My Lords, decisions on mergers are generally taken by the competition authorities based on whether there is a substantial lessening of competition. This generally provides the most effective method of protecting consumers. In this particular case, and in the light of the extraordinary stress in world financial markets, the Secretary of State considered that there was urgent need for additional action. He therefore laid an order in the House on 7 October that will enable him to take the final decisions in this case and allow him to consider effects relating to the stability of the UK financial system alongside any competition issues.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Obviously, in these times of trouble in the banking community, stability should come first. However, does he agree that the proposed merged group will have a very dominant position in the British banking scene, holding as it will more than 30 per cent of the current accounts in the UK? What measures do the Government feel they should introduce for the longer term to protect consumers’ interests?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her opening remarks. On consumer protection, as well as the other emergency measures we have taken in the past few days, the Government are about to introduce the Banking Bill, which will reconstitute the regulation of the banking system. The interests of consumers and taxpayers will form an important part of that Bill. As the House will recognise, the Bill has been introduced in the other place and will come before this House in the not too distant future.
My Lords, there is a saying that good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. What lessons have the Government learnt from the nationalisation of Northern Rock—which, after five months of indecisiveness, was nationalised in a rushed-through manner in three days? Here we are eight months later: we have no permanent major reform to the Bank of England, which is desperately needed.
My Lords, the Banking Bill has been the subject of very extensive consultation, and so it should be for a measure of such supreme importance to the British economy and the British people. I note that the noble Lord sustains his critical stance on the government action on Northern Rock. Others will think that the Government acted entirely appropriately. But all, even he, will rejoice in the fact that Northern Rock is beginning to pay back, ahead of time, its debts owed to the Government.
My Lords, I declare an interest in both these banks: I am now rather a small shareholder, and a depositor in one of them. By what principle do Her Majesty’s Government justify the guaranteeing of all British deposits in a foreign bank but not doing the same for British deposits in a British bank?
My Lords, I will shortly have the pleasure of repeating the Statement that the Chancellor made in the other place about our arrangements for British banks and strengthening the British banking system in this time of crisis. I hope the noble Lord will recognise that we have not adopted as a principle the issue with regard to foreign banks and the action that we have taken in the particular case of the Icelandic bank. That was a very specific banking failure and the Icelandic Government are in a particularly parlous state in relation to that failure. That is why, in the interests of protecting British depositors, the British Government saw fit to act.
My Lords, there is time for both questions if we start quickly.
My Lords, will my noble friend consider asking the Office of Fair Trading to investigate in, say, 12 months’ time whether the merger between Lloyds bank and HBOS, if it takes place, has adversely affected the consumer interest through the restriction on competition, which, as my noble friend suggested, inevitably takes place as a result of such a merger between major banks?
My Lords, the Office of Fair Trading will produce its report to the Secretary of State before he takes any action, and he anticipates that that report will be before him by the end of this month. Of course the OFT retains an interest in competition issues, and what my noble friend has suggested is bound to be an issue for it when a bank has such a significant stake in the market.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will accept that today’s events mean that things have rather moved on since the HBOS/Lloyds proposed merger. Does he accept that we are looking to the Government for a clear statement on two fundamental issues of policy? First, what conditions will the Government impose on banks that receive capital from the taxpayer to ensure that the money is spent for the benefit of customers and consumers? Secondly, does he accept that the wider government announcement today will inevitably lead to some suspension of competitive protection for consumers? Without wishing to press the Minister for the detail of government policy on this topic, will he undertake to make a statement to the House shortly?
My Lords, the Chancellor’s Statement, made earlier in the other place, answers a great number of these questions. The noble Lord will have a chance to question that Statement very shortly. The issues that he raised were exactly those which have exercised the Government.
Planning and Energy Bill
Read a third time, and passed, and returned to the Commons with an amendment.
My Lords, there has been some slight confusion as the Motion has already been agreed to. I will therefore not move it today.
Motion not moved.
Banking: Financial Stability
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in the other place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer:
“Mr Speaker, with your permission, I would like to make a Statement on the proposals I announced this morning. I hope the House will understand that it was necessary for me to issue a statement this morning ahead of the markets opening, for obvious reasons.
“As I said in my Statement to the House on Monday, the disruption in global financial markets has intensified over the past few days and weeks. I also said that government are ready, with the resources and the commitment, to do whatever is necessary—in terms of liquidity and capital—to maintain stability in the banking system. That is why today I put forward measures designed to restore confidence in the banking system and put banks on a stronger footing.
“There are three strands to what I have outlined today: first, to provide sufficient liquidity now; secondly, to make available new capital to UK banks and building societies to strengthen their resources and restructure their finances, while maintaining their support for the real economy; and, thirdly, to ensure that the banking system has the funds necessary to maintain lending in the medium term.
“My proposals today, as well as supporting stability in the financial system, will protect depositors, safeguard the interests of the taxpayer and play an important part in the international response to this global crisis. This, in turn, should help people and business, as well as support the economy in these extraordinary times.
“Let me set out to the House further details and the purpose of our measures. First, the Government and the Governor of the Bank of England will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the banking system has sufficient funds, or liquidity, to function properly. This is a crucial measure, needed to allow money to flow through the banking system. To this end, I have agreed further immediate liquidity measures with the governor.
“Until markets stabilise, the Bank of England will extend and widen its injections of funds into the system to build on the £40 billion it put in yesterday. The Bank of England will continue to lend these funds to banks, in both sterling and dollars, by taking a wider range of security in exchange. Today, I have increased the amounts available to the Bank of England to lend through the special liquidity scheme to a total of at least £200 billion. By injecting this short-term funding into the system, the banks will be better able to conduct their daily business with their customers. Importantly, this form of funding, which allows banks to swap assets for government securities, keeps the risk of losses with the banks, not with the taxpayer. The Bank next week will bring forward its plans for a permanent regime underpinning banking system liquidity, including a discount window facility.
“The second step is to help the banking system become stronger so that it can better deal with the current turmoil in global financial markets. Banks will do this by raising the level of capital they hold. A healthy banking system is the cornerstone of the economy—strong banks underpin a strong economy. But many banks, all over the world, do not have sufficient capital, and banks need adequate capital so that they can keep on lending to people.
“This is why today the Government have established a bank recapitalisation fund—to allow UK banks to increase their capital position. The eight major UK banks have today announced that, in aggregate, they plan to increase their capital by £25 billion. Banks can raise this capital in the open market, in the usual way, or they can raise it through the newly created bank recapitalisation fund. Other eligible banks and building societies can also take part.
“Through the fund, the Government stand ready to buy preference shares in the participating banks. Preference shares rank above the stock of ordinary shareholders. The Government will receive a fixed regular payment for holding the shares and will get better protection against future losses. In addition to this, the fund will be ready to provide at least another £25 billion of capital to strengthen the balance sheets of any interested bank. The taxpayer, therefore, will be fully rewarded for this investment.
“Additionally, the Government are prepared to consider standing behind the issuance of new shares by any bank taking part in the recapitalisation fund. The fund will cover a wide range of financial institutions—from UK-based multinational banks to high street branches and regional building societies.
“Through these measures, UK banks will be strengthened to above the standards required by international conventions, and it will put the banks on a stronger footing, making them better able to deal with future shocks and more willing to lend to people, families and businesses.
“This brings me to the third element of the Government’s proposal today. The root cause of today’s problems is that, because banks all over the world are worried about each other’s positions, medium-term lending between them has frozen up. Many banks have simply lost confidence in each other. If banks do not lend to each other, they will also not lend to people and businesses up and down the country. So to free up bank lending, and reduce dependence on overnight lending, I want to remove one of the key barriers by offering a temporary underwriting for any eligible new debt issued by banks.
“This means that participating banks can start having confidence in each other again, because they will know that the Government are standing firmly behind them when they want to issue new debt. This guarantee aims to unblock the system, so that banks can go about their business of lending to people and businesses and, because it will be priced on commercial terms, taxpayers will be rewarded for the risk they take on. The guarantee is expected to cover an amount of around £250 billion, but we will keep the total under review. Over time, the cost of lending between banks should fall, reducing the need for a guarantee.
“The freeze in global markets is a problem for all countries. Yesterday, at the meeting of European Finance Ministers, we agreed to work together to rebuild confidence in the banking system. I believe that the measures announced today are an important part of that. I shall be having further discussions with Finance Ministers. When I go to Washington this weekend, we will discuss extending these proposals as well as continuing with our work towards strengthening the system of international supervision. The Prime Minister has agreed with other major countries on the need for a meeting of heads of government.
“I believe these measures are essential for the economy, but let me deal with the implications for the Government and the taxpayer of these new proposals, as well as others announced previously. When we nationalised Northern Rock, the Government lent it about £30 billion, but it has now paid back more than half of that, ahead of schedule. When we nationalised parts of Bradford & Bingley, I was clear that we would run off its assets in an orderly way and get back as much as possible of the money provided to cover liabilities to depositors. The injections of liquidity, through the special liquidity scheme and other operations, simply allow banks to swap securities with the Bank of England, so the risk remains with the banks not the taxpayer. In other words, we get the money back.
“For all the operations of the recapitalisation fund, we will be charging the banks on full commercial terms. We will hold a capital stake as part of the investment. That will include the payment of dividends on shares and the appropriate charges for the use of the guarantee, ensuring that the taxpayers are appropriately rewarded. So the implications for the public finances as a result of today’s announcements will be exceptional, and mostly temporary.
“In return for this offer to invest in banks, I will need to be satisfied that the banks have the appropriate policies in place—policies to prevent the irresponsible behaviour that we have seen in some parts of the global-banking system. The public are entitled to share in the upside of these proposals, so in return for our support, we will be looking at executive pay, dividend payments, and lending practices, particularly to home-owners and small and medium-sized enterprises.
“I want to say something about the Icelandic banks, Landsbanki, and Heritable, its UK-based subsidiary. The Financial Services Authority decided yesterday that Heritable could not continue to meet its obligations. I, therefore, used powers under the special provisions Act to transfer its retail deposits to ING, which is working to ensure that it is business as usual for all its customers, protecting its savers’ money. The rest of the business has been put into administration.
“On Icesave, we are expecting the Icelandic authorities to put Landsbanki into insolvency. Despite the fact that this is a branch of an Icelandic bank, I have in the exceptional circumstances we see today guaranteed that no depositor loses any money as a result of the closure of Icesave. I am taking steps today to freeze assets of Landsbanki in the UK until the position becomes clearer.
“These actions demonstrate my strong commitment to protect UK retail depositors in these exceptional times. The purpose of these proposals is to get lending started again and the economy moving forward. It is one of a number of measures we are taking to deal with specific cases as well as providing general support, and we are ready to do more whenever it is necessary. Failure to act would have meant far greater risks to the economy and to the public finances in future.
“I made it clear that we will do whatever it takes to maintain stability, to protect savers and to rebuild the confidence to help businesses, people and the wider economy. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Chancellor. We welcome the fact that the Government are taking action, and my party commits itself to work constructively with the Government in their attempts to deal with the turmoil in financial markets. While we have seen only the barest outline of the Government’s package, we give it our broad support. We do not know whether this is the right package because we have not been part of the discussions and analysis with the regulatory authorities and the banks concerned so, for us, the key issue is whether this package works at an acceptable cost to the taxpayer.
The key initial test is whether liquidity returns to the UK banking system and banks return to their essential activity of providing finance to the business sector and the mortgage markets. Will the Minister say how the Government will measure success? How much liquidity is expected to return to the markets and at what cost? What can we expect in terms of additional lending to help to get our economy going again? Put simply, we are potentially committing another £500 billion of taxpayers’ money to the UK banking system. What can taxpayers expect in return?
We do, of course, have some detailed questions for the Minister. The Chancellor’s press release this morning stated that the Government will be taking into account dividend policies and executive compensation practices. Can the Minister explain how that will work? If I am one of the banks named in the statement this morning, what sort of commitments will I have to give? Is this going back to a form of dividend control? The one thing we learnt from Labour’s previous dividend controls is that they are fundamentally unworkable, except in the very short term. On executive pay, are the Government proposing something different from that which was outlined by the chairman of the Financial Services Authority a week or so ago?
The press release also stated that the Government,
“will require a full commitment to support lending to small businesses and home buyers”.
We fully support the desire to get funds directed to those areas, but are there not difficulties in practice in making banks lend to particular sectors? Is this just a statement of intent or is there some measurable substance behind the words?
More broadly, the banks will be coming to the new bank recapitalisation fund for new capital and for guarantees of wholesale borrowing. Is this a new body, or is it a division of one of the tripartite authorities? Is it a real body or a virtual one? This morning’s press release referred to,
“a specifically designated Government-backed English incorporated company”,
that will issue the guarantees. What is the relationship between this company and the recapitalisation fund and how will it work? Can the Minister explain the relationship between the fund’s new approach to agreeing capital ratios with the participating banks and the normal role of the FSA in carrying out its regulatory supervision of those banks? I hope that the Government are aware of the dangers of supervisory complexity, if it returns to our financial system.
The Chancellor's Statement does not explain the effect of the proposals on the measurement of public sector borrowing and national debt. Can the Minister do so? The special liquidity scheme will presumably remain as a financial transaction on the Bank of England’s balance sheet, but how will the extra £50 billion of capital and any other amounts paid out by the recapitalisation fund be scored?
I turn to the guarantees of deposits, which we have already discussed this week in your Lordships' House, and to which my noble friend Lord Hamilton referred earlier today. We welcome the fact that the Government are prepared to act as they have in the case of the Icelandic banks, but we are getting increasingly confused—as, I am sure, the depositors are—about what gets protected and why. Can the Minister explain the detail of the Icesave guarantee? The Chancellor said that no depositor would lose money. Does that protect depositors holding more than £50,000? Does it, for example, protect local authorities which, I am told, had large amounts of money invested in Icesave? What does that do for moral hazard, given the evident risk premium that was being paid on Icesave accounts? Who will pay? Do the Government expect the financial services compensation scheme to cover that, because it is not ordinarily covered by the scheme?
We now have a patchwork of protection. The banks which take guarantees from the recapitalisation fund will be able to gain 100 per cent guarantees for their wholesale borrowing. Their retail deposits, however, will be protected only to the extent of the rules of the financial services compensation scheme. Other retail depositors, for example in Northern Rock or Bradford & Bingley, are fully protected. I do not think that the man in the street can understand the distinctions. Can the Minister say whether the Government recognise the confusion and will take action? At the very least, will they make a clear statement of their policy?
Finally, we welcome the action taken by the Bank of England, in line with other major central banks, to cut interest rates by 0.5 per cent. The business community has been asking for that for some time, but the European credit markets, at least at lunchtime today, are so far unconvinced, with markets not moving in line with the rate cut because they continue to see liquidity, not the cost of money, as the issue. Stock markets, including our own, are also down. At the end of the day, markets will determine the success or failure of the Government's package.
We wish these measures well because it is the health of our economy, not the health of our banks, which is at stake, and we hope that the package will succeed. We wish that we could be confident that it will.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in welcoming the Statement. Like her, we give it support in principle. We believe that it offers the best balance between supporting the banking system and protecting the taxpayer. The key issues that arise now are the conditions that attach to the new arrangements—in particular, the extent to which they may be used to change some of the more unacceptable aspects of banking behaviour in recent times.
The point at which the banks are coming to the Government cap in hand for their bail-out for their new capital is the one at which the Government have the maximum leverage in effecting change in this area. In his Statement the Chancellor says that the Government will be looking at executive pay, dividend payments and lending practices. That seems a very weak statement. We do not want them to look at them; we want them to be changed. Some, in particular, need to be changed quickly rather than in the medium term. I think particularly about the situation facing many small businesses, which as we speak are worrying about whether they will be able to pay wages at the end of the month.
Noble Lords will be aware that many banks have summarily changed the terms facing small businesses, either by ending overdrafts altogether or by significantly increasing the rate at which they are charged and/or by charging fees of various sorts. Can the Government give us any assurance today that these practices will be brought to an end as part of the conditionality of the government bail-out?
On the interest rate reductions, we welcome the reduction today, although we suspect that it is probably not large enough and that more reductions will be needed in the relatively short term. We welcome the fact that it is co-ordinated and we hope that this co-ordination on interest rate changes today will set a precedent. Will the Minister say what role the Chancellor played in co-ordinating this response? When my colleague in another place, Vince Cable, suggested that action was required by the Chancellor, the Chancellor said that this was a dangerous suggestion. Does that mean that he has had nothing to do with events today, or has he seen the wisdom of his ways and started talking to fellow Finance Ministers about it? I find it difficult to believe that this was a spontaneous decision by central bankers around the world. However, having taken this decision today and co-ordinated their actions in a way that we have called for for some time, will the Government say whether any new institutional arrangements have been established, either between central bank governors or between Chancellors and Finance Ministers, so that co-ordinated action on interest rate changes will become the norm rather than the panic exception?
Finally, many millions of people are now thinking, “The Government have bailed out the banks but we are in considerable personal difficulties. What might they be able to do to help us?”. I am thinking particularly about those who may, in the months to come, be in difficulty with their mortgage payments. Will the Minister and his colleagues in another place discuss with the Justice Secretary how to ensure, for example, that court procedures reflect the desperate circumstances in which many people are finding themselves and that repossession is treated as a last resort?
With today’s decisions, the crisis may be moving from the financial sector to the real economy where we can now see the beginnings of a significant recession. Even if today’s measures are successful, this is not the beginning of the end; it is at best the end of the beginning. I trust that the Government realise that today’s measures are only the first and not the last steps towards economic recovery.
My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their broad support for the measures taken today. I emphasise that the Government, in the arrangements that they are making to improve the capitalisation position of the banks, are seeking to ensure that the banks are on a more secure footing and have the confidence to lend to each other. They are doing so, however, against a background in which the taxpayers’ interests need to be safeguarded. That is why the issue of preference shares arises; the taxpayer will get a proper return on the investment. In the same way, with regard to the liquidity scheme, there will be proper market rates for the repayment of money borrowed. The system is currently at a standstill because of a lack of resources, and the Government’s main purpose is to make those resources available while safeguarding the interests of the taxpayer.
Beyond that, it is clear that we have broader objectives which I hope the whole House shares. We never want to see this scale of calamity again. Therefore we need to put in place a structure that guarantees that banks act more responsibly. It means increasing the effectiveness of the regulatory system. It is the basis of the Banking Bill, on which the Government were criticised earlier today for taking a long time to produce. The Bill is fundamental to the future of the banking system in this country, which is why it was right to carry out the fullest consultation on it.
The noble Baroness again shows her preoccupation with the problems of public debt and public finances. She will know that the Office for National Statistics will take the decisions on the nature of the categorisation of this debt. It is not an immediate issue, nor would we expect the ONS to produce a decision in a matter of weeks. It will take time, but judgments will be reached. If underlying the noble Baroness’s point is the fact that the Government are involved in committing additional resources in this time of crisis, of course the Government are doing that. What would have been the criticism from every part of the House if the Government had not seen the need to take action to safeguard the banking system?
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, was slightly more generous in his welcome for the proposals. A great deal of co-ordinated activity has gone on. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have emphasised the necessity for, in global circumstances of a global crisis, such co-ordinated action. The noble Lord is seeing the fruits of that, not only in the schemes we have produced for the British banking system, but also, as he went on to comment, on the general position of co-ordinated activity on interest rates. We all know that in these circumstances the one sure road to catastrophe is unco-ordinated action on a basic beggar-my-neighbour principle. The Prime Minister has spent more than a decade arguing that in the world of global economics such co-ordination is necessary. Therefore, we are seeing the Prime Minister and the Chancellor playing a significant role in this co-ordinated action in Europe, through the institutions of the European Community, and in transatlantic decisions.
I should emphasise that I always accept the gracious way in which the noble Baroness expresses her support for those limited government measures for which she is able to show support. On this occasion, she has been less fulsome than I would hope because of this factor: it is not that I do not recognise the responsibility of the Opposition to scrutinise our proposals and our intentions. I have no doubt that the Banking Bill will undergo full scrutiny when it appears before the House. The noble Baroness will also know that confidence is of the greatest significance. We are facing a global economic crisis, which could have calamitous effects on all the people we seek to serve. The Opposition are part of that process of restoring confidence, which is why we have the right to look to them certainly to play their critical part, but also to recognise the strength of these measures as bringing forth the necessary degree of confidence in the system. I look forward to the co-operation of opposition parties.
My Lords, I join all those who broadly support the proposals. I am not sure what the noble Baroness would have said if she had not broadly supported them and whether it would have been much different. I recognise that there is still much to be done with one-on-one negotiations with individual banks before my noble friend will be able to say precisely what will happen.
On the preference shares referred to by the Chancellor, my noble friend repeated that the public should share in any upside. Normally, however, preference shares do not share in the same way as ordinary shares. Can I take it that attached to the preference shares, apart from percentage yield, there will be some option to convert over the years ahead? Will that be part of the negotiations with individual banks which might wish to take up the £50 billion that is available?
With regard to the other modest little amount of £250 billion in guarantees, the Government are obviously hoping that banks will lend to each other. In those circumstances, the guarantees are hardly likely to be a cost to the Exchequer in the sense that they will not be needed as the banks are never likely to go bust again.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing a rather more positive response to the Statement than we have had hitherto. The Government have opted for the preference shares for the obvious reason: they offer a degree of security to the taxpayer for the investment that would not be the case with the straightforward taking up of equity. But my noble friend is right that this will be the subject of negotiation between the authorities and a bank applying for these resources. We are, at this stage, able only to adumbrate the principles that we want security for the taxpayer as well as a proper return for the public investment. Different positions will obtain in different circumstances, but the principles are quite clear. The reason for opting for preference shares is because of the crucial issue of security for the taxpayer’s investment.
I agree with my noble friend on his second point. We are making this facility available because we are conscious of the extent to which banks are worried about their capital base at present, and that degree of insecurity is blocking the system. The underwriting of the position by the Government should instil that degree of confidence which frees the system and may mean, therefore, quite limited take-up of the substantial sum of money which the Government have indicated could be made available.
My Lords, while joining in the general welcome, I should like to ask a few questions of detail about the guarantees on bank lending and, I assume, by corollary, the counterparts—wholesale inter-bank deposits. As the Chancellor’s Statement made clear, while the underlying problem is one of bank capital and solvency, the immediate crisis is one of liquidity, and that is a question of confidence. Therefore, I believe that the third item—that of underwriting loans—may be the most important aspect of the Statement.
Are the loans to be guaranteed just loans and deposits between banks—inter-bank funding? Secondly, what is the definition of “new”? As loans and deposits roll over, will they automatically become new and therefore will the whole of inter-bank funding become new in a period of time? Thirdly, how has the amount of £250 billion been estimated? What percentage of inter-bank funding does that represent and how quickly do the Government believe that it will be used up? Fourthly, if all new inter-bank deposits and funding are to be guaranteed, how do the Government intend to stop international inflows into the UK in order to participate in the guarantees for deposits made against bank loans?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for identifying the key principle behind this part of the government proposals, the credit guarantee scheme, which is about increasing liquidity. That is why the Government are offering for an interim period a guarantee to assist in refinancing maturing debt. The scheme has a limited timescale. It is debt which with a guarantee will cover instruments for up to three years. However, we anticipate that it will create for banks a degree of security, beyond what we have indicated with regard to retail depositors, for lending and loans, which are much more substantial and are in many ways critical to the liquidity of the system. The principle we are following is exactly the one identified by the noble Lord and we will be able to develop the details in due course, but I want to emphasise the fact that this is related to comparatively short-term debt and is about tackling the crucial issue of bank liquidity.
My Lords, as a humble Cross-Bencher, may I say that the action the Government are taking is doubly welcome, not only in support of the economy but in support of a banking industry which has made a massive contribution to our well-being over the years? I have two points for the Minister. The first relates to the interests of the taxpayer and follows a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. I remember that in my youth there were things called participating preference shares. Those who took a risk had not only the first shot at what money there was, but also a share in success. Secondly, in so far as we are particularly concerned about Britain, to what extent did the issue arise in the discussions the Government have had with overseas interests and our own banks about the extent to which much of this money could just flow overseas and thus benefit overseas banks and economies rather than the UK economy?
My Lords, on the latter point, we are identifying the institutions that will qualify for access to the resources. I am all too well aware that the noble Lord understands fully the complexity of international lending, but the authorities will be lending to banks which are clearly identified participants in this scheme—they are British banks and building societies—and in them will be taken preference shares to safeguard the position of the taxpayer. I hear the noble Lord when he says that the Government would be wise to think in terms of participatory preference shares as well. These issues will be matters for negotiation with the banks, but we have emphasised preference shares because the Government are properly concerned about the security of the return to the taxpayer in due course.
On the more general matters raised by the noble Lord, let me assure him that in our discussions with the crucial banks which were able to participate yesterday evening and, I might add, through a good deal of the night, these issues have been worked through in broad and general terms. However, it is recognised that separate negotiations will take place with each of the participating institutions.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Newby has said, we welcome the Government’s proposals, and it is particularly encouraging that they have mentioned small and medium-sized businesses in this connection. However, in the light of the rate reductions we have seen today, perhaps I, too, may ask the Minister to ensure that those reductions, and indeed more, are passed on to small businesses in particular, and that they are given a fair deal. There is great concern that businesses are already not being treated fairly and conditions are being changed in respect of the support they need. Indeed, is this not a clear example of how, under conditionality, there is a real opportunity for the Government to press for these things to happen?
My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point on small businesses. These issues have been to the forefront of the Government’s mind in the development of the proposals and the discussions with the banks. No Government could possibly guarantee that every small business and small investor in the country will receive the automatic benefit of the overall bank rate reduction which happily occurred earlier today. We do not control our banking system in that way, nor do we have any intention of doing so. But it is widely appreciated that such a significant cut in interest rates is meant to be to the benefit of small businesses, borrowers and mortgage holders. The noble Lord will appreciate that the banking system is all too well aware of its responsibilities.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this decision. Will my noble friend keep the House informed about the important long-term implications for the reform aspects of the international financial regime, particularly the IMF, and how we regulate banking in a global economy? These are complex issues but they are important for the long-term management of such problems in the future; this is not only a national crisis. Will he undertake to keep us informed not only about the Washington talks but about other talks which will address these complex matters in the coming months?
My Lords, I cannot conceive that anyone speaking from the Dispatch Box on these issues will not have the international perspective very much in mind during questions and debates in the House. As my noble friend indicated, this is a worldwide crisis. We are all too well aware that, inevitably, there have been individual responses in various countries, but underpinning it all are problems which are common across the international system. We know that a great deal of the origins of the crisis obtained not in the United Kingdom but in the United States. This has been the burden of the representation on the reform of international finance that the Prime Minister has been conveying for more than a decade. At last he has got listening ears.
My Lords, among a sea of debt, I offer some credit to the Government for this package. Perhaps the Minister can help me with one problem. Why is it that the Government are prepared to rescue, quite rightly, depositors who have placed their money in Icelandic bank accounts, where the responsibility is on the Icelandic Government, and why are they not prepared to say that there is a guarantee for depositors who have made their savings in banks in this country? I listened to the Chancellor on the radio this morning and he said that no one will be allowed to lose their deposit. That seems to me to be the same as providing a guarantee. If the Government would only say, “Your savings are safe in the bank”, thousands of people throughout the country would stop worrying about their money. Why cannot the Government say this? Am I missing something?
My Lords, it is not for the Government to say that people’s savings are safe in the bank; it is for the banking system, in the first instance, to prove that the British high street banks are safe and create no concern. The issue with regard to Iceland is quite straightforward: it is an exceptional circumstance where a bank fails and a Government are not able to give assurances that they can underwrite the losses of the bank. The cost of the Government taking no action at all would be the loss to all depositors, small and large, in the Icelandic bank, together with the point that was mentioned in earlier exchanges today: a significant number of local authorities in this country have also invested. That is why we dealt with the Icelandic bank position.
The noble Lord is asking for a complete blank cheque from the Government to banks for future action, and we are not going to do that. We are going to provide necessary support to the system, necessary increases in liquidity and a necessary strengthening of balances, but we are going to do it on negotiated terms that ensure that banks meet their responsibilities. That is the proper way for the Government to act.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on what they are doing. Huge steps are being taken over here, and I think we all appreciate the efforts being made.
I have three points for the Minister. With regard to preference shares, as the noble Lords, Lord Barnett and Lord Dearing, mentioned, have the Government considered convertible preference shares? The Minister said that there is no risk to the taxpayer, but surely the underlying loans mean that they could go bad, which means there will be a risk. The taxpayer should be rewarded for that risk.
The second point, building on what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, just said, is this: what will the implications be for the British economy of countries like Ireland giving a blanket 100 per cent guarantee? I have already heard of hundreds of millions of pounds, probably billions, that have been withdrawn. I have heard story after story of money taking flight because people want their money somewhere where the Government guarantee it 100 per cent.
My final point is based on what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said about small businesses. I have heard horror stories about banks calling in overdrafts, increasing terms and making life difficult for small businesses. Surely the implications of all this, looking ahead at the recession that unfortunately is probably coming, are that businesses are going to have to deal with it. What help can the Government give? They already have a small firms loan guarantee scheme; surely they can increase that multifold.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his constructive response to the Statement. I hear what he says about the nature of the shares. I did not say that the shares carry no risk. The reason the taxpayer has the right to a return is that of course there is risk attached to lending. I was merely indicating that the Government are concerned to minimise the risk—hence the choice for the preference shares. I hear him when he says that the Government should strike a harder bargain in order to bring additional returns to the taxpayer. That is an important consideration, but he will appreciate that at present it is equally important, if not more so, for us to be able to restore confidence in the banking system. That is why we will be concentrating on that matter.
On small businesses, the noble Lord will recognise that that is exactly why the Government, having produced proposals that will reassure depositors, recognise that there is more to deal with than just small depositors. That is why the other proposals for the banking system are included in the Statement. I hear what he says about the mass exodus of resources. It is possibly the case that if everything had been left to “devil take the hindmost”, the effects could have been quite calamitous in terms of transfers across the exchanges. The noble Lord will appreciate, though, that the Statement represents a response that is reflected in other countries, too, particularly in the European Community. It is that general response that will guarantee that we do not have the calamitous consequences that he suggests might have followed from one state acting in a particular way—even one with relatively modest resources.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
Clause 5 [National policy statements]:
28: Clause 5, page 2, line 38, leave out “and”
The noble Baroness said: The amendments in this group are intended to ensure that good design is integral to the process of planning. The reason why they are necessary can be seen all around us. People are entitled to properly designed infrastructure sited optimally within our landscape, including the built environment. Infrastructure will not function properly unless it is well designed. There are good architects and designers in this country who work to the highest standards, but there is not yet a culture or an expectation of good design among those who make planning decisions and planning proposals. Indeed, there is a deficit of design capacity among the planning community. We must overcome this if we are to implement the newly central processes of the Planning Bill and seize the economic opportunities that it creates. I know that my noble friend is sympathetic to the importance of good design and I hope that these amendments or something like them will therefore work with the grain of government policy.
I shall summarise the amendments briefly, because I know that a wide range of distinguished commentators from all sides of the Chamber is waiting in the wings. Amendments Nos. 28 and 30 would ensure that good design is inherent in the national policy statements and Amendments Nos. 35 and 37 would ensure that the Secretary of State personally endorses the element of good design in the policy statement. Amendment No. 60 would guarantee the same for reviews of the NPS, giving good design the same status as sustainability, to which it is allied but not coterminous.
The same parallel is made at Amendment No. 86 to cover the whole exercise of the Secretary of State’s functions, so that sustainability would not be seen as being on a lower level than good design. Amendment No. 429 makes this clear by amending the Town and Country Planning Act accordingly. It fits the CABE-inspired, tried-and-tested review panels into the planning system. It is also important that their findings should carry evidential weight in appeals where applications have been rejected on design grounds.
Amendments Nos. 173, 174, 180, 213, 249, 250, 334 and 359 would mainstream design into the operations of the IPC, so that applications for consent, model provisions, the IPC’s acceptance of applications, the content of development orders and the capacity of the panels that make the settled decisions all fully take the need for good design into account. The IPC might best implement amendments along these lines by taking advice from the independent panel, much as operates in some parts of the USA, with the advice being publicly available. I owe this suggestion to the Royal Town Planning Institute, whose view I am sure the Minister will respect. It also chimes with the opinion of good London borough chief planning officers.
Amendment No. 334 would ensure that if the Secretary of State needed to halt the progress of any consent, she could also do so if the design was not good enough. On Monday my noble friend resisted the proposal that the IPC should include accounting for the quality of design among the prescribed contents of its annual report. There are examples of that kind of accountability and I hope that she will reconsider, particularly given the wide range of support that the proposal had.
Finally, Amendments Nos. 440 and 441 would ensure that the operation of the community infrastructure levy also includes proper consideration of good design. The local authority would be prompted to mainstream design in its thinking and ensure that it had good advice available. Good design is not an extra, a frill or a luxury; it is absolutely fundamental to planning that people can live comfortably with. That is why these amendments, or something like them, are essential. I beg to move.
I declare an interest as an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. My noble friend Lady Whitaker and I tabled the amendments in this group because we believe that it is profoundly important that planning policy explicitly requires conscious and continuous commitment by developers and planners alike to high-quality design. We have sought through the amendments to reinforce at every stage in the planning process, whether it is the new process for major infrastructure projects or the reformed town and country planning regime, a drive to ensure good design. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, whose standing in the fields of housing and local government gives him a special authority in these matters, for adding his name to the amendments.
My noble friend has explained the purport of our amendments. A number of them lay duties on the Secretary of State, or create powers for her, in relation to design, in her oversight of national policy statements and the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Others lay corresponding duties on the IPC. Other amendments lay a duty on applicants for an order by the IPC to demonstrate full regard for good design. Then there are amendments that bear on local authorities.
Amendment No. 429 would introduce a new clause amending the town and country planning regime. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 would be amended to create a duty on planning authorities to exercise their function with the objective of contributing to the achievement not only of sustainable development, which is already in that legislation, but also of high-quality design in the built environment. The new clause goes on, therefore, to require the Secretary of State to promote the availability of design review panels in every region and, on appeal, to give weight to any recommendations in respect of the application made by a design review panel. The Barker and Callcutt reports made strong cases for design review, and the amendment goes with the grain of their advice.
Of course, the amendments may not be technically perfect. No doubt they are not sufficiently systematic and comprehensive, either. We can remedy that on Report. I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will wish to take the lead in doing so. None of us has any desire to write into the Bill unworkable or excessive provisions. What we need is provisions on the face of the Bill that convincingly secure the commitment of the system to promoting good design. We would all prefer, I take it, that the Government should come forward with their own amendments to achieve this in an effective and sensible way. Meanwhile, the thrust of these amendments is clear and they will at least serve illustratively. I know that they reflect the serious concern on all sides of your Lordships’ House, demonstrated earlier in the year in our debates on architecture and on the Housing and Regeneration Bill, that the Government should take an appropriate lead in promoting high-quality design in the built environment. I know, too, that my noble friend the Minister, who of course genuinely appreciates the importance of good design, will want to be responsive to the feeling of the Committee.
Let me deal with some of the objections that I can anticipate and that my noble friend may feel she has to put to the Committee at this stage. It may be objected that the amendments are unnecessary, as the Government’s requirement for good design has already been expressed in planning policy statements 1 and 3 and these PPSs will provide a context for the formulation by the Government of their national policy statements as well as for the IPC and practitioners within the wider planning system. That is what my noble friend was saying on Monday in her response to our debate on Amendment No. 17. She said:
“The keystone planning document overarching everything that we do in planning is policy statement 1. In policy statement 1 there is a very clear recognition of the importance of design and sustainability. That is the principal driver”.—[Official Report, 6/10/08; col. 69.]
If my noble friend were again today to make the case that because of PPS1 we do not need anything in the Bill, I would not, I am afraid, draw sufficient comfort. Welcome as is her affirmation of the Government’s view of the importance of design, and admirable as are the principles set forth in PPS1, a planning policy statement is only guidance. Planning policy statements are expressed in highly generalised terms. They read as aspirations. Aspirations need underpinning.
Yesterday, at the briefing that the Minister so helpfully organised for us, we heard a person from the British Wind Energy Association say that planning policy statement 22 is “blatantly disregarded”. We also heard the representative of the Royal Town Planning Institute, an experienced planning inspector, plead for “clear ground rules”. He said that when you have them, a planning system works well; when you do not, you are in the sort of difficulties that are all too familiar and that this legislation needs to get us out of.
We have had planning guidance for many years, but in practice guidance has allowed too much that has been poorly designed to receive planning permission and to be built. We need to go beyond guidance and aspiration to explicit duties, laid precisely and unevadably on Ministers, infrastructure planning commissioners, developers, planning officers, planning committee members and inspectors, as they perform specific functions within the planning process.
I believe that the Committee will take the view that the requirement for good design must be explicitly articulated in the Bill. If it is, all concerned in the planning process will know for sure that they have to go beyond lip service and genuinely take design seriously. They will know that it is not only the non-statutory desire of the Government but the will of Parliament written inescapably into the law. Local planning authorities will have a new certainty that it is their duty to insist on good design, using design review, using the Building for Life standards, strengthening their own design skills, appointing design champions and rejecting substandard design. Local planning authorities have made it clear in their responses to surveys that they want to do better in matters of design. If they have clear legislative endorsement, they will set about doing so.
It may then be objected that it is unaffordably expensive to insist on good design, perhaps particularly for local authorities. If my noble friend were to make that suggestion, I would have to respond that, with great respect, she cannot have it both ways. If the duty is already there in the planning policy statements, it will be no more expensive to reiterate that duty and to remind and clarify in this legislation, as indeed the Government did a few months ago in the Housing and Regeneration Act.
In any case, good design need not cost more than mediocre design. Imagination and the exercise of skill are not intrinsically expensive. We all know, of course, that improved professional skills, notably in design, are widely needed. CABE has produced dismal statistics for the lack of adequate skills in planning authorities. Reform of the curriculum leading to professional qualification, so as to give greater prominence to design and to a common element of training in design, is needed, so that we have more planners, surveyors, transport engineers and, indeed, architects who understand and value good design. However, that is a matter of educating differently, not of spending more. The RTPI, RIBA and other professional and academic institutions are working on that and I hope that the Academy for Sustainable Communities, housed within the Homes and Communities Agency, and Ministers themselves will give vigorous leadership here. Meanwhile, with the deficiencies in design skills across the country, it is the more important that we write the requirement for good design into this legislation.
Even if there is a marginal extra cost up front in ensuring that the design is really good, that cost will start to be offset by the public’s more ready acceptance of well designed projects, leading to fewer objections. With design review, planning decisions will be speeded up, there will be fewer appeals and there will be faster progress in the realisation of projects. More significantly, there is abundant evidence—as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, reminded us on Monday—that extra investment in design at the outset is recouped many times over in savings on the lifetime costs of the building or installation. If anyone doubts that, I refer them to CABE’s publication, The Cost of Bad Design.
The Government want a great deal of new infrastructure to be built rapidly; that is what the legislation is intended to enable. At the same time, scarcity of capital and weakened financial confidence will make it harder to finance big construction programmes. The more pressures there are on time and finance, the more important it is for DCLG to build into legislation safeguards against cutting corners on design quality. If other departments working on national policy statements—DBERR, Defra, DECC—are impatient and anxious not to have their proceedings complicated by what they may take to be fancy requirements about design, the more it is DCLG’s responsibility to carry the flag for the civilised values that the public want. I hope that the Secretary of State will, if necessary, remind colleagues in other departments of what she said in her speech to CABE, that it is,
“absolutely vital for our planning system to support high-quality design”.
More of such leadership may be needed.
It may be objected that good design is too woolly a concept to be subject to legislation or that aesthetics are not a proper matter for legislation. In fact, the principles of good design have been expounded in numerous documents issued by DCLG and CABE. DCLG energetically and rightly promulgates the Building for Life design standards. Good design is explained and demonstrated in the practice of the design review panels that already exist. If it was appropriate for the Government to insist that the national agency responsible for promoting new social housing and regeneration should have a specific duty to promote high-quality design, it should follow that the national agency responsible for approving proposals for major infrastructure should equally have regard for high-quality design. Major infrastructure projects—roads, railways, docks, waste disposal installations, gas terminals, power stations and airports—will be visually conspicuous. It is essential that they should be not only functional and sustainable but also visually pleasing.
Functionality, sustainability and aesthetic appearance are three indispensable elements of good design. They should be understood as an indissoluble trinity: they are complementary and all three are equally necessary. Functionality is taken for granted and the Government are happy to write a requirement for sustainability into the Bill, but it will be no good if we legislate for a two-legged stool. Functionality and sustainability are part of good design, but they are not the whole story. The Bill must make it clear that all three aspects of good design are needed.
We are talking here of values, of the character of our nation. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. We should do as well as the best in other countries. If public policy in France secures the stunning aesthetic quality of the Millau viaduct, designed by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and Spain achieves the design quality of the Madrid airport terminal by my noble friend Lord Rogers, we should leave nothing to chance in our commitment to achieve comparable design quality in Britain. We can do it. The noble Lord, Lord Foster, designed the Stansted terminal. However, infrastructure design of that quality should be neither exceptional in Britain nor a matter of luck.
It would be defeatist and barbaric to set out, consciously and deliberately in this legislation, to tolerate the mediocre, let alone the downright ugly. In her wonderful biography of Pugin, whose spirit we should always respect in this place, Rosemary Hill wrote:
“In the debates that dominated the early months of 1851 design and politics, religious freedom, architecture and the modern city were all intermingled, for all were expressions of England’s growing self-consciousness on the world stage”.
Sir Joseph Bazalgette, who created the Victorian sewer system, declared that it,
“should be one of the Seven Wonders of London”,
and it was. Think of London’s pre-war power stations. One became Tate Modern and epitomises contemporary London. Battersea Power Station was an inspirational design; its image has appeared on album covers and film sets, and it deserves a better future than we have managed to offer it in our own time. What self-respect will we have in our generation, and what judgment will we suffer by successor generations, if we leave a legacy of shoddy, dull, demeaning building? Our determination should be to match and surpass the vision and achievement of our forebears.
I am delighted that my name is attached to these amendments, and I shall read and reread the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the brilliant, masterly speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. However, my comments will be rather brief. In our discussions on Monday there was support across the Committee for the concept of design playing a bigger role in the Bill, even though the earlier amendments on the subject did not gain much approval from the Minister. I hope that at least some of this long list of additional amendments may find their way on to the statute book. I made the point, which was well elaborated by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that major infrastructure projects—and indeed all projects which serve not only utility but beauty—will last, as have the Victorian monuments. If we construct shoddy buildings that no one appreciates, they will not last and the savings gained on day one will soon be lost.
Given the need to find many billions of pounds to fund the major infrastructure projects of tomorrow, the anxiety is that design will be the first casualty of financial constraint in the present credit and banking crisis because it is so easy to skimp on it. We are likely to see more projects going down the private finance initiative route, but those projects are not noted for their architectural merit. I declare an interest as an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. What has happened to its proposals for smart PFI procedures that would build into the PFI mechanisms a greater emphasis on design, which seems to have been lost along the way? I hope that design will be given the prominence it deserves somewhere in the Bill, whether that is done through the PFI or other routes.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Best, I admired the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. He has given far more attention to this subject than I have, even though in a former manifestation I had to address some of the issues he described. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, spelt out how this group of amendments is designed to improve the Bill and I support the thoughts behind them.
It is not entirely true to say that the planning system has tended to ignore design. On Monday, I reminded the Committee that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales memorably described the original design for the National Gallery extension as being like a carbuncle on the face of a well loved friend. In the same speech, which I believe he made on the 150th anniversary of RIBA at Hampton Court, he also described a Mies van der Rohe design for a major building in the City as more suitable to downtown Chicago than to the City of London. I remember expressing considerable indignation to His Royal Highness’s private secretary because he seemed to have made two of my most important planning decisions for me. However, it was very important that he did so because the Mies van der Rohe building in particular involved an architect of major international reputation and significance. The building had been promoted by my noble friends and 20 years had elapsed between its original conception and the point at which the planning application had to be decided.
I do not think that those who were my officials at that time will mind my saying that they advised me strongly to accept the Mies van der Rohe building and to reject His Royal Highness’s criticisms. I went to the City and spent most of a morning with a senior official and various pictures and mock-ups of what the building would look like from different angles around the site. I came to the firm conclusion that His Royal Highness was right and that my officials were wrong. That was the decision.
I remain perturbed, however, at the official advice of the department. I think that the officials were impressed by the apparent distinction of the architect rather than by what the building would look like on the site. Anyone who visits the site now will recognise that there is a very beautiful building there which is a vast improvement on what had been there before.
I am seeking to illustrate a point to which the RIBA has drawn attention and which the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has just mentioned. There is huge dearth of design skills both in local authorities and, I suspect, in many government departments. On the local authority side, I often heard from developers who had engaged distinguished architects and had had to give them the very firm instruction, “Do nothing unusual. I want planning permission quickly”. One has heard also of architects who have designed striking buildings for particular sites only to have them firmly turned down by a local authority planning committee which simply did not approve of the genre and wanted something more normal. This has been one of the real problems affecting local authority planning applications. Sometimes it is not the planning officers and their staff, who may well be good people; often it is the local authority’s members themselves who seem to have no appreciation of what they are on about. They want something that will be, they say, “harmonious with its surroundings”, and tend to resent anything in the least bit unusual.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has on this and previous occasions mentioned the huge importance that her department attaches to this issue. That is probably an improvement on my day. However, that has to percolate right down and create a new attitude to design right through the planning system. Some of the amendments in this group, which the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, outlined, are aimed at the existing planning system, not just at the new process that is set up in the early parts of the Bill. They are hugely important. At the same time, attention needs to be given to the recruitment and training of those who will work in planning departments. It is not an easy time to say that. Local authorities, like everyone else, will have to watch every penny of their spending. This issue may seem to some, including some local authority leaders, as a luxury that we cannot afford. As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, pointed out, that is a gravely mistaken view.
I referred on Monday to an attitude characterised by the statement, “If it’s a bad building it won’t last very long”. If it is a bad building it will not work. I am thinking of a building that was put up in the City in the past couple of decades. However beautiful it was, there were enormous complaints that it was absolute hell to work in. That is just as much a fault of bad design as of the aesthetic. A building must be functional as well as aesthetically attractive.
I therefore support this group of amendments. I believe that it would be greatly to the advantage of this legislation if, whether or not the amendments have been properly drafted, the Government could incorporate amendments in the Bill for Report which would reflect the view that has been expressed so far in all parts of the Committee, including in Monday’s debate. Therefore, I commend the amendment and warmly support it.
I shall explain in a moment why I want to intervene now. As this is the first time I have spoken in this Committee, first, I declare an interest as a member of a local planning authority. Secondly, I apologise to the Minister and to the Committee as I do not think I shall be able to stay until the end of the debate on this amendment. I have been summoned to an event at No. 10 Downing Street at half-past five and I do not think I should be late for it. I have never been there before and I want to go and have a look at the place.
I congratulate the movers of these amendments for their ingenuity and thoroughness in going through the Bill with a fine-tooth comb and inserting the words “design quality” at every possible opportunity. I am not sure that all the instances that we have found are appropriate but I recognise what they have done and congratulate them. If I had done it, I would be quite proud.
Secondly, I congratulate them on raising the issue. So far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned, although we do not necessarily support the detail of each individual amendment, we should like to give enthusiastic general support for this batch of amendments. We very much hope that the Government will, as they have done with previous legislation, take this issue back and insert those words in the Bill where they think it appropriate to do so. That is the least that we can ask them to do and I hope that they will do it.
Having said that, I recall the last big piece of planning legislation, which I think was the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004—I cannot believe that it was four years ago; it seems like yesterday. During the passage of that Bill, we had similar discussions about the phrase “sustainable development”. In discussing that at great length, we had difficulty in deciding what it meant. What one person means by sustainable development is different from what another means, but in a sense we all think that it is a good thing and therefore we want it in the Bill.
In a sense, design is the same. To some extent, if you put a group of people in a room and ask them what they think good design is, they will spend half their lifetime discussing it. Perhaps a lifetime will not be long enough and they will discuss it for ever, yet what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said in a splendid speech is absolutely true. If there is a constant and continuous commitment to good design, it will have a fundamental effect. It will change the culture, and that is what it is all about: it is a question of changing the culture of development in this country.
If we look around, we see a lot of shoddy, shabby development. Much of it is perfectly functional but some of it clearly is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said. Increasingly, it is sustainable, although there is a long way to go on that, but in terms of what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, called “aesthetic appearance”, it is awful. Far too often in this country, we put up not with second or third best but with dross. The noble Lord mentioned some big projects in other parts of Europe—in France, for example. When I go to France, I am always amazed at the number of small projects taking place—small new buildings of all sorts in the public and private sectors. People have made an effort to design them to make them look attractive. In some cases, they are designed to fit in with what surrounds them and with what was there previously, and in other cases they are intended to make a determined modern statement, being quite different from what was there previously. Nevertheless, you look at these projects and think, “Why can’t we do that in this country?”. You look at new village halls, new community centres and some new industrial buildings, even new supermarkets. I am not saying that everything in France is wonderful—it is not; there is some rubbish there as well—but there is far more good design there. Whether it is a small, large or medium-sized project, one thinks, “This is better than what we usually do in our country”.
A change of culture is needed. Although people will never really agree on what is high-quality design, somehow you recognise it when you see it. It is important to realise that we are talking about design and not about different styles. You can design buildings well whether they are built in a traditional way or in a modern way, or however they are built. Good design is good design. Usually you recognise it when you see it.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said a few things about councillors and council officials, looking for the lowest common denominator. I call it development controlled by tick lists. There is a huge amount of that around. Nevertheless, some people at local level are as frustrated as everyone else by the inability to produce good stuff. I put forward one anecdote about my own town, Colne. A couple of years ago, we had a new Sure Start centre built and when the plans came in, some of us councillors looked at them and said, “What's this?”. We had been looking for a building which made a statement right in the middle of town, opposite the parish church, which is a Grade I listed building and we had been provided with something which we thought was a bit shabby. They had done all the right things: they were building it with natural stone; the roof would look as though it were made of blue slate, even though it was not; the windows were the right shape and so on, but it just was not right. It was not of the right quality.
We complained and demanded a meeting with the committee which was putting in the application. Those on the committee said, “We had something different because you told us you wanted a statement on this corner and something special and your officers turned it down and told us to go back and produce something which was not quite so blatant and which would not compete with the parish church”. We argued on for a bit and then they brought out from under the table their original plans. We said, “Yes, we’ll have that”. Now we have something called a rotunda and a conical tower. It may not be the most brilliant building in the world; it may not be the best new building that has ever been built in Lancashire; but it makes a statement in the middle of the town and it is something a bit special. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that it was councillors who said that they wanted something better. There is some aspiration on the ground among both local planning authorities and local councillors.
Some of us have found the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 very useful because it put design on the face of the legislation. That is useful because now we and anyone else who is interested in design can say to the planners, “It’s there, and the Government say you have to do it”. It has filtered down through PPSs and so on, which has been very useful indeed. When a planning officer says, as one said to me, “I can't help with this because I have no qualifications in design”, I can say to him, “Well, go and get some, if that is what you need because we are doing it”.
Some of the amendments are particularly useful. The suggestion that development consent orders should specifically refer to design is useful. The Part 9 amendments, which change the existing planning regime to emphasise design further, are useful and the suggestion that the content of development consent orders should specifically have to refer to design is very useful indeed. It may be that some of this is best done in the secondary legislation that will follow this Bill, but I think we would all like a commitment from the Minister that it will be there. Unless there is a concerted attempt in this country to increase the standard and quality of building design, not just functionality and sustainability—you can make functional and sustainable buildings that look horrible—buildings will not work because people will not like them. They will not provide a nice environment to work in and live around. Unless we make a conscious effort to increase the quality of visual design in this country, we will continue to be not second best in Europe, but a long way down the league. I support the ethos behind the amendments.
I start by apologising for missing the opening speeches on this group of amendments. When I read the Marshalled List, my first reaction was that they were a bit over the top, but I have listened not only to this afternoon’s debate but also to general discussion on this important Bill, and I have begun to appreciate the wide ramifications of NPSs and the work of the IPC. I am sure that they are right to emphasise the importance of good design if we are sensitively and properly to rebuild our infrastructure. It will be enormous. Most of the discussion I have heard this afternoon has been about buildings. The single point I wish to make is that good design is not just about buildings. It is much wider than that. This is particularly important in the context of infrastructure that crosses the country: new roads, new railways, ports and, in some cases, wind turbines. It is extremely important that infrastructure sits properly in the landscape.
I am not an architect or anything like that, and I think it is a pity that the two most distinguished architects in this House—the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, and my noble friend Lord Foster—cannot contribute to this discussion. Oh! I bow and can sit down very quickly as the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, is in his place. I remember that in his maiden speech my noble friend Lord Foster talked about design in this wider context, and I am sure that is what the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, will do. I look forward to him taking part in this debate.
I shall speak briefly to support the principles underlying these amendments and to urge the Minister to allow a reference to good design to appear in the Bill. I, too, must declare an interest as an honorary fellow of the RIBA—this House seems to be full of them this afternoon—and I have also served as a deputy chairman to my noble friend Lord Rogers as a member of the Architecture Foundation, which has promoted good design for a long time and has encouraged young architects to strive to work with local communities in promoting good design.
I endorse all that my noble friend Lord Howarth said so excellently. In 35 years of practice, I worked with some superb architects and some not so superb. It is important that the Bill should contain reference to good design because in my experience planning guidance has not been sufficient. Planning guidance can so easily be dismissed on the grounds that good design is a subjective matter of taste and that it is all a matter of opinion. I do not believe that to be true; good design is not a luxury but an essential. It does not add expense; it adds value to the product made by good design. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said and encourage the Minister to incorporate, not necessarily the words proposed in the amendment but words to the effect that ultimate decisions on whether a proposal is acceptable will have to have regard to good design.
I have no particular personal experience, expertise or fellowship, but having been the chief executive of the NHS for a number of years, I have overseen some of the clients of design. My experience—this is where I want to associate my remarks with those of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, about the three-part distinction that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, made about what design is—is that functionality is fantastically important.
I make a distinction from the sense of functionality that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, used. In health, you can look after a patient in any environment, but there are some environments that enhance your ability to look after patients. Functionality is about enhancing the activity that takes place within the environment. We need buildings that are designed not only for the individual but for the community and that are pleasurable as well. To take one quick illustration from health, we recognise how important the environment is for the health of the patient, whether therapeutically for those physically ill or, more importantly, for those with mental illness. The environment provides a positive and reinforcing context. What about all those people who are not ill? Is it not also relevant that we live in environments that are positive and lift the spirits?
I know that one problem in talking about design is that people may think that we are talking about imposing particular criteria or styles of design. What I like about the amendments, even if the words are changed, is that they do not seek to do that. As I understand it, they are intended to leave a space not only for making judgments, but to require people to consider design and to make a judgment in their local context. That will also put a requirement on the client to think about and make judgments about design. That is more important than details of design.
Finally, it seems ridiculous, does it not? How could good design not be part of planning? We know that that is not always true. I put in a word for the British in comparison with the French. Anyone who has driven around the outskirts of Paris will know what I am talking about. We also see in the health service and elsewhere many good, well-designed, functionally enhancing services that provide much better conditions for the life of patients there. Sadly, that is not always the case. Good design and good planning are not always hand in hand. That is why I support the proposal that the Bill should require that design is explicitly articulated as one of the criteria in planning.
I too support the amendments and, in so doing, apologise to Members of the Committee for not having been able to be present at Second Reading. I shall make two brief points but, before doing so, I pay tribute to the absolute tour de force from my noble friend Lord Howarth. This has been an absolutely superb short debate today and I will be very brief, but I wanted to pick up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, which has prompted me to rise, although the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has now stolen my thunder.
I wanted to say that as a client for the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, a PFI-commissioned hospital and medical school, it is not the PFI process that causes us to have poor or good design; it is the behaviour, aspirations and ambition of the client. One reason why I support the amendments—apart from all the other reasons that have been put forward today—is that, if the Homes and Communities Agency now has a specific statutory duty to attend to and promote good design, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, it is absolutely consistent that the National Planning Commission has exactly the same duties and responsibilities.
More importantly, if the commission has this responsibility, it sends an incredibly powerful message to clients who will come forward with major infrastructure projects that will be so visually dominant across the country, as a number of noble Lords have said, to stiffen their resolve when commissioning the kind of designs that will have to be paid for in the main by private finance. Naturally, I want to complete the circle and make the point that, if we want PFI-sponsored projects that are strongly designed, we should use every encouragement possible in the Bill to send the strong message that the commission, when considering these things, will take the greatest possible account of that.
I will not go over the ground covered by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, who moved and spoke to their amendments so comprehensively and so admirably, but I will confine myself to the principle of the 18th-century Back-Bencher, who after a fine speech by Edmund Burke, simply stood up and said, “Ditto to Mr Burke”, and sat down again.
At the risk of making a brief Second Reading speech—I should stress perhaps that I did not speak at Second Reading—my own interest in architecture was stimulated at a school that had been founded in 1843, where the governors employed en série first Blore, then Street—I lived in a building by Street that was the first building in the whole kingdom to have concrete in its material—and then Bodley to build a new and larger chapel, because Blore’s chapel had been too small. In Bodley’s office was Comper, a boy of 18 then. Sixty years later, Comper returned to the school to refurbish and redesign the reredos that Bodley had built 60 years earlier as a post war memorial. Then came Norman Shaw followed by Aston Webb. The cricket pavilion was by Alfred Waterhouse; I suspect that it is possibly the only cricket pavilion that Alfred Waterhouse ever designed. Even the school architect, who was an old boy of the school, although his father was an RA, contributed the science laboratories, which became one of the first of 50 buildings in the 20th century to be listed by the appropriate authorities.
Great names are not everything, but its cumulative message had a profound effect on me. It is disloyal of me to say so, but the school has not used architects of the same quality in the past 50 years. I should, as a mea culpa, say that I served for nine years as a governor of the school in a couple of different spasms, but I do not recall our working under an articulated architectural policy. That is why I so support the emphasis of the amendments.
I conclude with a tribute to the chairman of a characteristic West Midlands, Black Country business with factories all over the kingdom—a chairman no doubt long since dead—whom I visited in the early 1960s when I was in the private sector. He explained that his business had just employed a corporate architect for the first time, and that his first action as chairman was to send him on a three-month sabbatical to look at fine contemporary buildings in all the other countries of the globe. That is the spirit that should underlie the forthcoming explosion of infrastructure in our country.
I too pay tribute to the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in moving the amendment—an eloquence which I fear I shall not be able to match. I begin with two apologies: first, that I was not present at Second Reading; and, secondly, that I may have to leave before the end of the debate, although I fear that I do not have as good an excuse as having been summoned to No. 10.
I support the amendments, particularly Amendment No. 86, which would lay on the Secretary of State an obligation to exercise his functions with the objective of contributing to good design as well as to sustainable development, and Amendment No. 359 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which would provide that:
“An order granting development consent must impose requirements on design quality in connection with the development for which consent is granted”.
Architecture, planning and environmental design are not natural territory for me, but I have been brought to them by my experience in my neighbourhood of Dalston. Others have come at this through examples of good practice. I am afraid that I rather come at it from the vantage point of examples of bad practice, which I venture to think may be more numerous in our time. I have spoken about this before in your Lordships’ House and would not wish to weary Members of the Committee with a further lengthy account of what is happening in Dalston. I refer to it merely to underline the importance of design. However, I will give an indication of what I am talking about for those who did not hear my lengthier account on a previous occasion.
Dalston is certainly badly in need of regeneration. You would think then that we would be glad that Transport for London and the London Development Agency decided to take it in hand. It was said to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Dalston. Instead, we are faced with an assortment of off-the-shelf, unimaginatively designed, indeed brutal, tower blocks of up to 20 storeys, varying in height, and crammed together with little recreational space. What there is consists largely of a sunless wind tunnel. The tower blocks have no relationship either to the Victorian street pattern or to one another and there is little aesthetic coherence. They will not regenerate; they will blight the environment and bring no benefit to the area. Instead of design-led regeneration, which should be the aim of planners, we have the prospect of a sink estate in less than a generation. It is not difficult to imagine the potential for alienation, anti-social behaviour and vandalism. As a criminologist I know that that is not the way to build a housing estate.
It is not my purpose to dilate on the problems of Dalston for their own sake. My purpose is to illustrate the need for design considerations to be made central to the planning process in the Bill. Without that, as we have heard, it just does not happen. As a Member of the Committee said, planning guidance, of which there is a plethora, plainly is not enough. Dalston is an illustration of what happens when the need to have regard to the requirement of good design is not clearly and unmistakeably built into the planning process.
The RIBA has said that design is about much more than aesthetics. With my noble friend Lord Chorley, I maintain that it is also about much more than buildings. It is about sustainability. It brings social, environmental and health benefits. For that reason, the RIBA goes on to say that design should be one of the most important considerations in new development. The Planning Bill should be used to entrench design into the planning process. As we have heard, both the Barker and Callcutt reviews endorsed those recommendations.
There is no incompatibility between functionality and good, exciting design. The Victorians demonstrated it. Other countries show that it can be done. We can look at Chicago or Shanghai. If disasters like Dalston are not to be perpetuated, design imperatives need to be at the heart of planners’ considerations. I very much hope that the Government will agree to these amendments or some form of them.
I am an architect, so let me first refer Members of the Committee to my various interests, all of which are listed in the Register of Lords’ Interests. I add my support to this group of amendments put forward by my noble friends Lord Howarth and Lady Whitaker and I congratulate them on the content of their speeches. I am delighted to hear the support that design has had today.
There is general agreement that design affects the quality of life and that good design adds value. As Winston Churchill said:
“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us”.
Infrastructure is the central part of the built environment, and Britain has a great tradition of good design. To me, the Victorian engineering tradition produced the most interesting and innovative architecture of the 19th century—consider the work of Brunel. One needs only to look at the beautiful bridges that cross the Thames, or the train stations such as St Pancras and Paddington.
As we have heard, good design does not have to cost more, but it certainly adds long-term value. Today, Foster’s breathtaking Millau bridge over the River Tarn in the Massif Central has revitalised the area and become a tourist attraction. His Beijing airport not only functions brilliantly but has lifted the spirit of many millions of travellers who passed through there during the Olympics. Let me correct one small point in the speech of my noble friend Lord Howarth. It was I—or, rather, my practice—who did Madrid. It was a delightful experience, which had much to do with the client. Although we have many contemporary architects in Britain, unfortunately nearly all the well designed infrastructure work is done abroad. This is a shameful waste of talent.
I finish by quoting the oath of citizenship pledged by the ancient Athenians. They said:
“We will leave this city not less but greater, better and more beautiful than it was left to us”.
If today we consider the Hellenic period the mother of all western culture and design, then we should follow their example and put design at the very heart of our nation’s culture. The best infrastructure, buildings and public spaces are critical for our culture.
I declare my interest as a surveyor. I must also declare that, as a surveyor, I am not very fond of architects. They have often made life much more difficult than necessary.
I have listened with great interest to the debate. I agree entirely with the principle behind the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, but what they are saying relates more to the planning system as a whole than to the particular part of the Bill. It is much more relevant for housing, but that does not appear in the national policy statement. Clause 14, which deals with nationally significant infrastructure projects, refers to,
“the installation of an electric line above ground”.
It is not so much a question of design as of functionality, as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, and location. Harbour facilities and the alteration of a railway interchange offer huge scope for design, but for a lot of what we are discussing I do not believe that much can be done in the way of design.
Like location, functionality is key because big infrastructure projects have to work well. You can do only so much with a wind turbine. A wind turbine is a wind turbine is a wind turbine, but it is a question of where you put it. Yes, we need them and the design can be altered to a limited extent, but how they are put into the countryside can make all the difference in the world. An example was given at the meeting yesterday that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and I attended. A structure was put on top of a cliff when it could have quite easily been moved down into a wood and screened. Whatever you call it—design or location—that is my concern.
I have nothing to add to what I said on Monday in support of good design, particularly in this field. I also express the hope that the Minister can offer her noble friends sufficient encouragement in order to satisfy them, otherwise we may have to go over all this yet again.
In view of the debate we have just had I would hesitate to encourage this Committee in any respect at all. It has been a splendid debate—I would expect none other from your Lordships—which has been ably led by my noble friends. The courtesy of my noble friend Lord Howarth’s speech has been commended around the Committee, and we heard many other excellent speeches. Although it has felt like a Second Reading debate on design—I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness—I think that we needed to have such a debate at this stage because there are so many issues about what we are trying to do in terms of national infrastructure and in the amendments themselves.
I do not want to make a Second Reading speech, but I should say that I do not need to be persuaded about the values or the virtues of good design and the link between beauty, vitality and utility. I do need to be persuaded about how we can make the present system work better and guarantee that our magnificent infrastructure projects, which range from power stations to beautiful roads, can be as aesthetically pleasing as they are functional through good design that is long lasting. People should look back and admire these projects just as we look back at some of the wonderful mid-Victorian architecture reflected in power stations with their crenellations and towers. The Victorians did that kind of building well.
As this House is so respected in these areas, I think that we ought to be careful that we do not talk ourselves into a spiral of despair about the quality of design in this country. We have many very fine architects. My noble friend on the Front Bench and I have reflected on the half dozen transformations that have taken place in some of our great cities over the past decade, such as in Norwich, Leicester and Birmingham. In the summer I visited the Sage Centre in Gateshead. It is an absolutely magnificent building, and there are many others like it. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was right to say that what we need is a cultural change. We know that, and when we look to change our legislation we must be aware of what has the most impact and the greatest effect. What is going to inspire better leadership and greater confidence in decisions taken on the ground?
We have been talking about the planning system, but I shall return to the amendments before us and pick up on the issues that they raise. I think that my department is ambitious for beauty and that we have a particular role to play in ensuring that the planning system delivers of its best. I say again that I have listened carefully to what has been said across the Committee in this debate and I shall reflect on it, but I must address some of the issues in the amendments themselves. I shall start by putting a question: does our planning system at the moment actually deliver of its best in the current planning policy statements? My noble friend Lord Howarth has challenged me to explain why there should not be an explicit statement in the Bill. While he may have anticipated my answers, it does not mean that they are going to be wrong, even if noble Lords have already heard some of them. The point is that planning policy statements are not optional; they are the law and have to be followed. We heard yesterday, for example, that PPS22 was sometimes not followed—I am not sure that I would agree with the noble Baroness in question on what she said—but the position is very carefully and clearly set out in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Our planning policy guidance is there for a purpose, and PPS1, which is the overarching planning policy statement, makes specific reference to design and sustainability as paramount requirements that should be followed.
Amendments Nos. 28 and 30 would prevent the Secretary of State designating a statement as a national policy statement unless it took full account of the importance of design quality. That would also extend the sustainable development objective in Clause 10. But we should not underestimate or diminish the value of what is in the planning system at the moment because, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, so much more can be achieved by changing cultures and by gearing up our skills and the confidence of elected officials and officers at local government level.
We have an extremely good and robust planning system, but another kind of argument is being put forward. Differences between the new regime and the TCPA mean that we have to be careful about how and where we emphasise design in this context and what in reality it will mean. National policy statements will vary greatly depending on the type of infrastructure to which they refer. It is difficult to have a blanket interpretation of design. Although there are bound to be fundamental elements in what we mean by design, a universal requirement imposed in the Bill would mean something very different for an underground gas storage facility, for example, where the crucial requirements would be high-quality engineering and safety, than it would for an airport, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Foster, said, could be a potential triumph of aesthetics. Design may have the same elements but its expression may not mean the same thing. We are looking for NPSs to provide flexibility in order to reflect what is required and provide certainty for developers. We need to think carefully about that. There is wide variation and we need flexibility. I have, however, listened to what has been said about the NPS.
Amendment No. 86 attaches design to sustainability. Clause 10 requires that, when drawing up NPSs, Ministers do so with the objective of contributing to achievable, sustainable development. As for the link between design and sustainability, there are potential dangers in identifying design separately. It has taken us quite a while to get people to understand that design is essential to sustainability—as, indeed, it is—but an equal difficulty is that if we put design on the face of the Bill we will be open to pressure from a range of other arguments to include, for example, habitats, flood risks and the needs of people with disabilities. We need to think carefully before we take such a step.
Amendment No. 35, which relates to appraisal of design, would raise the same kind of problem. It would not be helpful to require a separate appraisal of design quality. As I have said, separating out design and sustainability would diminish a powerful platform. I do not want design to be another box to be ticked; we need something more serious than that. But I reassure the noble Lord that the process of sustainability will have to take account of design. The effects on the natural and built environment, on landscape, on population and on cultural, architectural and archaeological heritage will be assessed at a strategic level as part of the appraisal of sustainability and fully integrated into the whole process. It will then be tested in public consultation and by parliamentary scrutiny.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 173, 174 and 180, which relate to the pre-application provisions, and the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Best. The amendments, admirably, aim to add to the pre-application process a specific provision on design. Amendment No. 213 would require that the application could be accepted only if the applicant had full regard for high-quality design. The amendments seek to add a requirement that applications must demonstrate a full regard for good design.
I return to the mantra that I started to develop on Monday. The key to everything we want to achieve in terms of sound decisions by the IPC is to ensure that the national policy statement clearly sets out policy on the type of infrastructure in question so that that can be the foundation on which decisions are clearly taken. I suggest, therefore, that under Clause 58 local authorities also have a clear responsibility for design. They will be invited to submit a local impact report once an application has been accepted. It will give details of the impact of the development on the local area. They can raise design issues powerfully there. Those issues can also be raised in an environmental impact assessment, which will look at the effect on landscapes and the historical, cultural or archaeological significance of what is being done.
There might also be some unintended consequences in the amendments. Clause 53 requires the commission to decide within 28 days whether an application can be accepted. To be acceptable the application must comply with the requirements in Clause 36(3), but the amendments would create a duty that is subject to highly subjective judgment and which could make it difficult for commissioners to decide whether the timescale had been met.
Finally in this group, Amendment No. 180 would give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations that contained model provisions. Again, I argue that this is too specific an imposition on the Secretary of State. In either case, the commission must certainly have regard to model provisions, whatever the topic they are concerned with.
I can deal with Part 6 fairly swiftly because we had this debate on Monday. I must say, noble Lords have been ingenious in finding spaces to put the design amendments in throughout the course of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 249 and 250 would require the chair of the IPC to appoint at least one commissioner with experience in capacity and design. In the debate on Monday I think we all agreed across the Committee that what we were looking for in the commission was not a series of specific specialisms but a collective combination of judgments, talents, expertise, wisdom and competences that would enable the panels, when they were so constituted, to bring a broad but acute sense of what was needed to make a proper judgment in a particular case. Among other things, that will include an ability to judge risk and value design. As we heard last night, this meeting has been referred to an excellent description of that.
In Part 7, Amendment No. 359 seeks to require the IPC to place requirements on development consent orders. I have said a bit about this. Many matters that fall under the design and heritage ambits—such as effects on the natural and built environment, on landscape and so on—will be picked up by the appraisal of sustainability but considered at a strategic level, which is the best way to address them. The precise terms of the amendment are not very helpful; they potentially leave the IPC having to impose requirements even where the application was already at a standard that does not justify them.
I turn to the town and country planning elements and Amendment No. 429, which seeks to insert a new clause on design. There are two main elements: the first puts in place a statutory design duty while the second establishes statutory design review panels. The first element amends Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 so that those exercising development plan functions at regional and local level must, in addition to the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, also pursue the objective of achieving high quality design in the built environment.
I will not rehearse the power of planning policy statements in this respect. Suffice it to say, without sounding at all complacent, that we have seen the benefits of stronger planning policy in the steady improvement of design in public space and housing in this country. Yes, there is far too much that is poor and is simply not good enough, but it does not do much service to those who are working hard to raise standards across the country if all we talk about is their failure. We need to be careful about marginalising design.
The priority for action in this area is not further statutory provision, and I am not sure who is actually calling for it. Rather, it is to make our existing system work better. I return to what the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Jenkin, said: we need to build awareness so that design issues are considered earlier. We need to secure and develop the skills and access to skills so that local authorities can be more confident about recognising and developing good design, and there is a need to promote leadership. We are entirely committed to doing that, and we have done so not least by investing in planning advisory schemes which help people acquire greater confidence about what constitutes good design.
The second element would amend the Town and Country Planning Act so that a statutory design review panel would be available for every region. There is much in the amendment that we can support. In particular, we recognise that local planning authorities with too small a development workload to justify dedicated resources, or those dealing with regional and sub-regional levels, may find it helpful to call on independent design advice in the form of a design review panel. Six regions already have those in place, supported by CABE and the RDAs. It would not be right to put design review panels on a statutory basis. We are considering the results of a wide-ranging consultation on the future arrangements for single regional strategies. What we come forward with will need to fit together with our resources, and that will include design.
The amendment also suggests a role for regional design panels which would focus on commenting on schemes already at the application stage. That would be too late. CABE advisers’ design issues should be brought into play earlier. We currently have another review in progress, Killian/Pretty, which is an independent review of the planning applications process that is looking at end-to-end problems in our planning systems. We must be careful about introducing more delay to the process. There are already six regional-level non-statutory design review panels. We are exploring with CABE how far those are meeting need and whether any further support is needed. I hope that my noble friends will draw some reassurance from that.
I turn finally to Amendments Nos. 440 and 441, which seek to amend the community infrastructure levy clauses in Part 11. The principal amendment, Amendment No. 441, would provide the power for the CIL regulations to specify criteria for the design of infrastructure to which CIL revenue is applied. CIL is a mechanism for raising additional funds for infrastructure necessary to support growth. It does not grant consent for the infrastructure to which CIL revenue is applied— that is a separate process. Attaching design requirements to the CIL regime would not provide complete coverage, because we are still maintaining the flexibility that Section 106 gives us. Therefore, ensuring that appropriate design criteria are applied to new infrastructure should be the focus of the consenting process and not its funding by CIL, which could be counterproductive.
The amendments have allowed us to have an extremely good and wide-ranging debate. I have listened hard to what noble Lords said. I shall reflect on the debate and the arguments made.
That was an elegant speech from the Minister, but she said no to every single request made in the amendments. I agree with her on many of them: it was nice to see them in that context, but they had no purchase on the way in which the Bill would operate. I cannot see how one can put design into the national planning statements in a way that makes sense. Amendment No. 429 is extraneous to the Bill—it addresses other planning matters. Although I support its merits, it is not really to do with this Bill.
I hope that the proposers of the amendments will choose to take this matter forward. That happened in 2004 and, in the end, the Government were persuaded. It takes the Government’s own Back-Benchers to take an active role to make that happen, so it is very much in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I hope that they will do it and focus down. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, lighted on Amendment No. 359 as having some merit. I do not have his experience in that area, but his comments were worth listening to.
I come back to Amendment No. 17, which the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, tabled on Monday. That is the pressure point in the Bill, where we can insert design and have it make a difference. Whatever decisions the noble Lords reach, I hope that it is to bring something back on Report and to be prepared to put it to a vote.
I am immensely grateful for the strong support for this group of amendments all round the Committee, from such a wealth of distinguished proponents. My noble friend Lord Howarth made it overwhelmingly and eloquently clear why we need explicit obligations about design in the Bill and how advantageous this would be. The noble Lord, Lord Best, held up some grim prospects if we did not get them. I reassure the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that location and functionality are essential to good design, not separate.
It would be invidious to hold matters up by giving full vent to my admiration for what everyone said, but our debate was signally honoured by the unanswerable contribution of our foremost architect, my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside. My noble friend the Minister was pretty good, too. I appreciate her support for the concept behind our amendments, but I hope that she forgives me if I say that there is a need to do more work on realising that concept. I hope that we see that at Report. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 29 to 32A not moved.]
33: Clause 5, page 3, line 4, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert “Sustainable Development Commission”
The noble Lord said: In speaking to Amendments Nos. 33 and 59 in this group, and as this is my first intervention on the subject of the national policy statements, I shall start by reiterating what I said at Second Reading. This section on the national policy statements is, in my view, the most important part of the Bill; it is what will make the Bill work in speeding up nationally important infrastructure projects.
Forward and framework planning is a process whereby we agree democratically how we want to see our cities, towns, villages and countryside develop in future. The process of planning frameworks is largely decided at local level, with local development frameworks and local plans, and so on, albeit in recent years with stronger and stronger input, guidelines and policy statements emanating from the departmental centre. These departmental guidelines are not totally democratically accountable. In fact, the Minister, who is not in her place, might consider in reference to the previous debate that what noble Lords are trying to do with design is to give it more democratic impetus, rather than merely having departmental statements, which, although they are converted into law, are not fully democratically accountable.
I strongly approve of the desire to speed up major infrastructure projects, provided that we have the right democratic balance. The national policy statements provide that balance, but we have to ensure that not only do we utilise the full democratic process—and we are coming to that subject perhaps later this evening, or at some future date—but we are seen to be as open as possible. The Executive and department should not be seen to be manipulating the process in their enthusiasm to meet targets or implement other policies of their own. Thus, while I am sure that the Secretary of State and his or her department might be capable of carrying out a sustainability appraisal—although sustainable development, too, often means too many different things to different people—it is crucial that any such appraisal is seen to be arrived at independently by experts so that the public and all the politicians have a clear, independent view of the issues before the policy statement comes before Parliament. The Bill is right to put such emphasis on sustainability, both here and elsewhere. The Minister emphasised that at, I think, 10.15 last Monday night.
A planning process that does not, at least, attempt to balance the often conflicting agendas of the economic, social and environmental would not be worth very much. It must be done properly and be seen to be done properly without bias. Therefore, it would be much better for the Secretary of State to commission the Sustainable Development Commission with all its expertise to carry out the sustainability proposals. I beg to move.
I support my noble friend Lord Cameron’s amendment. I intervene at this stage as we have a group of amendments here that are—shall we say?—lightly connected, and I have a feeling that in further discussion on the group noble Lords will be intervening on other amendments which deal with issues such as environmental assessment, the landscape convention, and so on.
I intervene on the specific point that arises on Amendment No. 33. We all agree, and the Government agree because it is in the text of the Bill, that there has to be an appraisal of the sustainability of the policy set out in the statement. That is already there. The question is: who should do that, and what should be our assessment of the reaction of the public and others to how that is undertaken? I share the view of my noble friend Lord Cameron that it would be better for confidence in the system if, as proposed in his amendment, the assessment of sustainability was carried out by the Sustainable Development Commission. It would command greater confidence and be fully effectively done. I therefore support that.
I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about the environmental assessment of plans and programmes. In particular, I support Amendment No. 39 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, which is that there must be an,
“appraisal to ensure that the statement is consistent with the terms of the European Landscape Convention”.
We all know, and I support it, that the effects of the Bill will be swifter and that there will be more agreement on a number of major projects consistent with the statements which have been agreed at the highest level. That is what we are going to achieve. It is a good thing, but we need to think carefully about some of the potential consequences for landscape and other factors in the environment to which the public and I attach a lot of importance, so I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Reay.
I make a brief apology to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in that for the second time I have spoken in support of a suggestion that attention should be given, in particular in this case, to landscape when I know very well that we will come on later to Amendment No. 37 which comprehensively covers the case of the built environment, the heritage and landscape. Amendment No. 37 is a wonderful amendment, and we will come on to it. I have just given noble Lords a preliminary statement of my view on that. However, I had to intervene on this amendment because I also support Amendment No. 39 which refers to part of the same subject—that is, the effect on landscape of some of these potential projects.
Before we get further into the detail of this group of amendments, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question, which I intended to ask at Second Reading. However, because of the timing of the debate I was not able to stay and so I did not ask it. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I do so now.
What happens under the Bill when a proposed infrastructure project partly involves Scotland? Clause 225, the extent clause, states that Parts 1 to 8 in their entirety do not apply to Scotland, with one exception. Under subsection (3), oil or gas cross-country pipelines which have an end in England and an end in Scotland can be dealt with under the Bill, but no other project in Scotland can.
What happens when—whether the Secretary of State or the commission is considering the matter—someone has to look at a new high-speed railway line, for example, from London to Glasgow, or a pipeline to carry Scotland's plentiful water south of the border, or a new line of giant pylons to interconnect electricity? Such things are possible.
The present minority Administration at Holyrood refuses to be involved in the Bill. It has the right to do that; planning is of course a devolved matter. However, as I understand it, the Scots Administration has no intention of legislating to hasten the notoriously low speed of the present planning processes in Scotland. It seems that any infrastructure project which straddles the border, which has an end on each side of the border, will be held up for as long as it takes for the planning progress to operate in Scotland, or it will have simply to be chopped off at the border. If it had to wait for the very slow existing planning process in Scotland, the purpose of the Bill will be negated.
I have not given the Minister notice of that question. I do not expect her to answer it now. Perhaps she will write to me about that as it is an important matter. Unless in some way it can be solved, there are rocks ahead. I hope the House will forgive me for raising the matter under this group of amendments.
Until I have an opportunity to meet the noble Baroness, I say simply that the arrangements for Scotland are within the devolution settlement. If we could meet outside the Chamber, I will take her through the provisions as they affect the sort of issues she raises. We must get back to the amendments we are debating now.
I hope that my noble friend will find that a satisfactory conclusion. I have great sympathy for the Minister having a question on devolution bowled at her in the middle of a detailed group of amendments on the content of the Bill.
I have three amendments in the group. They are small. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, for supporting my Amendment No. 34. It requires an environmental assessment of a national policy scheme in accordance with EC directive 2001/42/EC, which requires that, particularly projects of this nature, are properly environmentally assessed. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give me an assurance that that is and always has been the intention of the Government. I find it difficult to believe that that would not be the case. Of course we have to probe these things and it is very important to get them on the record. That is what these questions do.
The second amendment deals with flood risk, which is too often a neglected subject until it is too late and the water is coming up through the floorboards. However, I must say that I lived just outside a village. There was a certain section in the village where the first the villagers knew that the river was rising was when it came up through the floorboards. It had been doing it for about 300 years and nobody took any notice.
The fact that the debate on this group will be considerably shorter than that on the last group—and probably considerably shorter than the debates on the next two groups—does not mean that it is unimportant jam in the sandwich. I warmly support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. I struggled with how sustainability was dealt with in the Bill, partly because I was a little unwilling to accept that the Commons concessions had stolen our thunder on the issue. However, I realised that involving the Sustainability Development Commission is an obvious and sensible approach to ensuring that worthy thoughts have a mechanism to deal with the issue in a realistic and practical manner.
The Minister may be about to tell the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that at least some of his amendments are unnecessary. The thinking in them is obviously to be supported. I hope that she will say that my Amendments Nos. 38 and 54 are also unnecessary, but they have exercised me. They make essentially the same point. The second was sent to me by the Local Government Association, so perhaps has a better provenance than the homemade drafting of Amendment No. 38.
The issue is sustainability across matters, not just within the single statement, such as modes of transport. The obvious example is whether there should be an airport—the subject of national policy statement 1. Could the functions that the airport is designed to achieve not be achieved, at least in part, by a high-speed rail link—the subject of national policy statement 5? I have mentioned transport and renewable energy, for instance, as against traditional forms, particularly fossil fuels. I am sure that the issue goes wider, but these seemed crisp examples. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that when the NPSs are drafted, they will not be discrete statements which the IPC and local planning authorities will be forced to read without reference to much broader issues than those within them.
I read with interest the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. Although I thoroughly agree with the principle behind what he says, I cannot agree with the amendment. It is vital that the Secretary of State carries out an appraisal as well, but that should include the Sustainable Development Commission. I hope that we get the Sustainable Development Commission somewhere between the two.
I say to my noble friend Lady Carnegy, who went off at a tangent, that she should hang around for Amendments Nos. 144 and 145, which deal with railways going into Scotland. I am sure that the Minister will give her all the answers then.
I support my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith on Amendment No. 36 on flood risk. I raised the issue at Second Reading and I still find illogical that flooding is not considered a national infrastructure matter. We will yet again go through a period of considerable climate change; we have not experienced it so much in our lifetimes, but our ancestors certainly experienced wild fluctuations in the climate over time. How one can consider major infrastructure projects without looking at flood risk is almost incomprehensible. The Minister and I have crossed swords in previous debates about London development on the flood plain. This is exactly the same issue. One must look at the likelihood of flooding before siting a development. It is no good siting a development for the water to come up through the floorboards, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said.
I speak to my Amendment No. 39 in this group. At Second Reading I declared my landowning interest in the north west of England as well as the south west. For the purposes of this amendment, and perhaps subsequent amendments, I add that a wind farm is being proposed within a few miles of my house on the north Lancashire border, and within a considerably shorter distance of part of the property.
My amendment would require the Secretary of State, before he designated a statement as a national policy statement, to carry out an appraisal to ensure that it was consistent with the terms of the European Landscape Convention. The European Landscape Convention was opened for signature by all members of the Council of Europe—not the European Union—in Florence in 2000. It came into force in this country in, I think, March 2007, although it may have been in 2004; I received contradictory briefing on that point, so perhaps the Minister will eventually enlighten us.
One of the preambles of the convention recognises,
“the public's wish to enjoy high quality landscapes”.
In Article 5, each signatory undertakes, among other things,
“to integrate landscape into its regional and town planning policies … as well as in any other policies with possible direct or indirect impact on landscape”.
The convention makes it clear that “landscape” includes marine landscape.
My amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to consider the landscape implications of the policy contained in any national policy statement. I am here particularly targeting the reckless destruction of some of the finest natural scenery in the country, brought about as a result of the Government’s drive to increase hugely the number of wind farms. Where I live, in the area of north Lancashire and Cumbria, the landscape is under great threat from multiple wind farm proposals. It is no exaggeration to say that the clusters of giant turbines—it is now standard for them to be 400 feet high—are in the process of industrialising a landscape that is one of the most beautiful in the country and loved by resident and visitor alike. These schemes are ferociously opposed locally and, I suggest, are wholly out of place because of the harm they do to a magnificent landscape. Therefore, following the terms of the European Landscape Convention, on those grounds alone they should be rejected. Of course, the same can be said about other parts of the country.
Clause 5(5)(d) sets out that a national policy statement may identify one or more locations as suitable, potentially suitable or unsuitable for a specified description of development. In other words, the Secretary of State could declare in a national policy statement that certain parts of the country were unsuitable for wind farm development because of the damage that would do to highly valued landscape. By including in the Bill a requirement that the Secretary of State should ensure that a national policy statement is consistent with the terms of the European Landscape Convention, we can at least make certain that the Secretary of State, where relevant, must consider the landscape aspect of a national policy statement before making his judgment.
The advantage of including a reference to the European Landscape Convention—rather than just referring to “landscape”, as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, would do, although I thoroughly support that—is that it provides a reminder that the Government have signed up to a convention designed to increase the attention given to landscape when other policies are formulated.
I support some of the amendments in the group but am rather dog-in-the-mangerish about others. I commend Amendments Nos. 38 and 54 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. National policy statements need to be aligned to ensure that they optimise economic, social and environmental objectives and need to be integrated across departmental policies rather than being stand-alone silos. Amendment No. 38 seeks to ensure that individual transport modalities and energy technologies are compared with other methods of energy generation and transportation to ensure that we choose the most sustainable solutions in those areas.
I also commend the amendment on strategic environmental assessment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. Strategic environmental assessment is an extremely good, well honed, recognised and rigorous tool that allows options to be considered rather than just a single solution and is the gold standard of environmental appraisal methodologies. The Bill states that environmental impact assessments should be carried out but not necessarily strategic environmental assessment. I believe that nearly all the proposals that will be submitted will fulfil the European legal criteria on SEA. The Government may disagree with that. If that is the case, I should like the Minister to commit that SEA methodology will be the standard methodology used for environmental impact assessment in this area because it is the recognised gold standard.
I regret that I have difficulty with two of these amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, as he is an excellent chap. However, I seem to disagree with everything that he says, and I disagree with him violently as regards the Sustainable Development Commission undertaking sustainability appraisals when making or amending national planning statements as opposed to the Secretary of State. I believe that the Secretary of State must take responsibility for that and not “off-shore” it to an unaccountable body such as the Sustainable Development Commission. That remark is not contentious, but I am critical about the commission’s track record. It is not an expert body; it buys in expertise in certain areas. It is a broadly representative body with many excellent skills, but it lacks expertise in sustainable development appraisal. “Tendentious” is the kindest adjective I can apply to some of its reports. For example, its report on the Severn barrage was a shoddy piece of work, and that is the kind of report which we would expect it to produce if the amendment were accepted. Therefore, I am very much against the Sustainable Development Commission taking over the sustainability appraisal role from the Secretary of State. It is rare for me to trust the Secretary of State more than anybody else, but, alas, I would do so if the Sustainable Development Commission were the alternative.
I support the noble Baroness. If the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, were accepted, Clause 5(3) would read:
“Before designating a statement as a national policy statement for the purposes of this Act the Sustainable Development Commission must carry out an appraisal”.
In other words, the Sustainable Development Commission then designates the statement as national policy. The whole thing is completely incoherent. Ultimately, only the Secretary of State can designate something as a national policy statement. We can question how he does that and what advice he takes, but, as I say, the amendment is incoherent.
This debate is incredibly important. The convention was referred to. I am one of those who maintains that part of the all too widespread cynicism about politics is due to people happily committing themselves to convention requirements, but conveniently brushing them to one side when it comes to the crunch. The fact that the convention says something must be done is not the point. The point is that it underwrites the principle that in a civilised, decent society the dimensions about which we are speaking are crucially important. Why do we want energy? We want it to sustain a society that is worth living in. What is a society worth living in? It is a society that values landscape, beauty and aesthetic considerations. If we undermine those, what on earth are we doing?
It seems to me that there has been rather a neurotic reaction to wind farms. I refer to the absurd argument that they do not produce very much electricity. Alternative energy comprises an aggregate of many generation methods producing modest amounts of energy. The important point concerns where these things are sited. A strategic approach is desperately lacking. One tactical skirmish after another takes place across the country.
I applaud the idea of a national policy statement to consider social implications. That would ensure that everything does not land up on the doorstep of the inarticulate and disadvantaged as opposed to the doorstep of the more privileged sections of the community who can look after themselves. I am concerned also about the aesthetic and other considerations about which we are speaking. It is no good just leaving this to luck. One could have a philistine Secretary of State. We are very fortunate as the present Secretary of State is no such thing, but that situation could arise. Therefore, one must ensure that these serious considerations are written into the Bill. If this is not the right way to do it, we should look to my noble friend for a convincing suggestion on how it can be done.
I leave the Committee with the following thought. We have read the literature and we have seen the way that the mills of the industrial revolution resulted in the rape of some of the most beautiful parts of our countryside. We can see how that could have been carried out more wisely, sensitively and rationally. We must learn from history and not do that all over again. Of course, we need wind power but we need wind farms to be sited sensibly. We must ensure that the principles that require the Secretary of State to take into account wider considerations than purely economic ones when considering energy generation are written into the Bill.
This is another excellent debate dealing primarily with sustainability appraisals. I wish to discuss this large group as a whole. Members of the Committee have argued that the current provisions for sustainability appraisal are not sufficiently comprehensive and should be tightened in various ways. Therefore, I shall set out how the sustainability appraisal process will work and test the amendments against that. I hope I can offer reassurance on the points raised by the amendments.
Our sustainable development objectives are central to consideration of future infrastructure needs. In the energy and air transport White Papers one will see all that we need in terms of infrastructure, set in the context of sustainable development, in a clear and inescapable way.
The Bill requires that, before designating a national policy statement, Ministers must carry out an appraisal of their sustainability. That process will also apply to revisions of national policy statements where the policy is materially altered. We must have a robust and credible assessment framework that will ensure that all statements comply with and properly factor in environmental, social and economic objectives.
Government departments are working together to develop a common framework for conducting appraisals of sustainability. The appraisal will draw on existing SEA methods but, for reasons that I will explain, it will be flexible, because NPSs will vary in their content and preparation processes. I can reassure the Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, in particular that the appraisal procedure will be just as rigorous as an SEA under the directive. It will involve an iterative process of collecting information, testing evidence, defining realistic alternatives, identifying sustainability impacts and effects and developing mitigation measures. Above all, it will be fully integrated with the wider NPS preparation process, involving statutory consultees during key stages. Where necessary, the draft NPS will be revised in light of the appraisal of sustainability.
The difference is that the appraisal of sustainability will need to be broader and wider ranging. It has to capture not just environmental but economic and social impacts. This will ensure that we understand the impacts of NPSs holistically and that they help us to deliver our sustainable development objectives. The problem that I face with Amendment No. 34 is that it would constrain any appraisal to the terms of the SEA directive and remove the flexibility to deal with NPSs in their wider context.
The noble Baroness was right to say that in many cases the SEA directive and the implementing legislation will apply. Where this occurs, we will ensure that the appraisal will fully integrate all the obligations under the directive. But the SEA directive may not apply to some NPSs and it would not therefore be appropriate to specify in the Bill that they should always be formally subject to it. This should be decided on a case-by-case basis when more detail is available on the content of each NPS. It would be inappropriate to gold-plate the SEA directive in this way. There are plans and programmes to which it can be properly applied and we will ensure that, where that is the case, it will be fully integrated.
Amendment No. 36 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is on flood risk. We discussed this matter on Monday evening and now the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has joined the debate. I shall not rehearse what I said, because I agree completely with the noble Earl on the importance of the issue. I repeat my reassurance that it will be fully and properly taken into account in NPSs, where it is relevant. It is worth looking at PPS 25, which is a sophisticated document. For the first time, flood risk assessment is geared to the highest three levels of risk—those are very serious risks indeed. That guidance document involves a sound test of where planning is plausible and where it is not. There are checks and balances in the system. The processes for public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny will ensure that all relevant aspects of policy, including the risk of flooding, will be properly taken into account in the final versions of the NPSs.
I also have a problem with singling out a specific potential impact, because, as I have said, it is difficult to control the scope afterwards. We have given a clear commitment that the Secretary of State will have a duty to consider sustainability, which, where relevant, will cover flood risk, when producing an NPS.
Amendment No. 85 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, would require that the sustainable development duty on the Secretary of State under Clause 10 applies to functions carried out under the whole of Part 2, which goes much wider than simply Clauses 5 and 6. The amendment would require the duty to apply in relation to functions outside Clauses 5 and 6, such as consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. It is important to draw a proper distinction. The way in which the duty is drawn up makes it clear that it applies to the function of setting out policy. That must be the right approach. If we expanded the duty, it would be very confusing, particularly if there were procedural requirements.
Amendments Nos. 33 and 59 put the cat among the pigeons on the Cross Benches, where it is pretty rough. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has proposed that the appraisal of the sustainability of the policy set out in a draft NPS should be carried out by the Sustainable Development Commission rather than the Secretary of State. He made an eloquent case that, because the SDC is the Government’s independent advisory body, it would be best placed to carry out such an appraisal. I hope that the SDC reads Hansard tomorrow. I am sure that it will consider it interesting reading. I should say that we value the work of the SDC.
Let me first reassure the noble Lord that we share his concern that national policy statements must in each case be drawn up with the objective of contributing to sustainable development and be seen to be so. He is right to stress the importance of transparency. There must be proper testing by the processes that we have put in place to achieve this. However, I repeat the question that was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull. Why should responsibility for carrying out this appraisal rest with the Secretary of State rather than an independent body such as the SDC? The answer is clear. In the context of everything that we are trying to do, the burden of our argument is that Ministers are accountable for their policy and it is right and proper that responsibility for ensuring that it is, and is seen to be, sustainable rests with them.
The Secretary of State is responsible not only for UK law but for EU law and is, therefore, responsible for ensuring that an SEA is carried out where one is required under the SEA directive. It is also important to ensure that policy is developed in the full context of all the relevant policies across Whitehall. We will consider an amendment later that touches on that. That would be difficult for an organisation such as the SDC to achieve. In terms of transparency, the policy will be independently tested through consultation with statutory bodies and scrutinised by Parliament. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord, who made a serious argument that the appraisal should be thorough and comprehensive. It is rightly the responsibility of the Secretary of State.
Amendment No. 38 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require an appraisal carried out in connection with a transport or energy NPS to include a comparison with other modes of transport and with other forms of energy respectively. I hope that I can reassure the noble Baroness that what is in place will meet those objectives. Her amendments would be too prescriptive. The framework for the appraisal is deliberately designed to be flexible to allow each appraisal not only to capture the appropriate detail but to integrate policy and to explain the implications for each NPS in relation to the other.
While it will be the case that the appraisal process will include reviewing and/or developing reasonable NPS strategic alternatives where they exist, in some cases reasonable alternatives will not exist. For example, there is no economically feasible alternative to shipping and ports for international transport of heavy freight. We cannot put a mandatory requirement in the Bill. Where reasonable alternatives exist, the NPS will in any case have to be clear as to what alternatives have been considered and whether they are or are not capable of fulfilling the Secretary of State’s policy.
Amendment No. 39 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, would require that, before an NPS could be designated, an appraisal must be carried out to ensure that it is consistent with the terms of the European Landscape Convention. The convention sets out that the protection, management and planning of all landscapes in Europe is a task not just for Governments but for all sectors of civil society, entailing rights and responsibilities for everyone. We consider that the UK already complies with the ELC’s requirements, but we wish to strengthen this wherever we can through performance in policy and practice across as wide a section of society as possible. The UK Government and the devolved Administrations, through appropriate agencies across the four countries, will be invited to develop their own action plans, whose activities will further implementation of the ELC in a creative and incremental way.
Defra has asked Natural England to take the lead on the implementation of the ELC in England. It will work closely with English Heritage, the Forestry Commission, NGOs, local authorities, professions and the public. So I do not feel that it is appropriate for us to place an obligation on the Secretary of State to carry out the specific appraisal, but I underline that the appraisal of sustainability will include an assessment of impacts, and Natural England will be a statutory consultee for all national policy statements. It will be able to raise the issues that it feels are appropriate, including any obligations that arise from the ELC.
Finally, Amendment No. 54 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would require each NPS to explain how the policies that it contains will support the achievement of objectives contained in other national policy statements. For the reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, it is important that policies are lined up and that they are consistently interrelated. However, I am afraid that this amendment would unduly constrain Ministers because NPSs must relate to much more than simply other NPSs. They will have to be developed and will have to iterate and justify policy within the wider sphere of relevant policies, whether those relate to transport, energy, the environment or planning, with the objective of contributing to sustainable development. The amendment would create an artificial connection between the various infrastructure types covered by the Bill, rather than allowing Ministers to describe the critical connections across policy. NPSs will have to describe those connections, but they will be different. It is important that the Bill retains that flexibility. However, as I said, in principle Secretaries of State must take full account of the interaction between the various types of infrastructure being planned before designating each of the NPSs.
I have dealt with this matter at some length but I thought it important to give clear assurances that the appraisal of sustainability, in particular, will be thorough and comprehensive. The provisions are not intended to enable the Secretary of State to duck any difficult issues—quite the opposite. I hope that, with that reassurance, noble Lords will feel that their amendments have been properly served.
Perhaps I could ask the Minister to confirm what I thought she was saying. She did not give the technical answer; she gave us a lot of assurances and I accept those, but is she saying that Clause 10(2), which states that the Secretary of State must,
“in exercising those functions, do so with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development”,
is cast in a way that covers what I am particularly concerned about—that is, the alignment and comparability point? It is important to know not just what is in Ministers’ minds but where that is to be found in the Bill. I imagine that it is in Clause 10(2).
I am grateful for all the contributions to the debate, both in support and otherwise. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, for making an interesting intervention.
The point of the amendment was to probe to what extent the Government wish to have an open process that is seen to be at arm’s length from the Executive. I felt that the Minister acknowledged that, although there was no question of her opening any windows or doors for anyone to jump through. I hope that when it comes to the alternative approach, which is to have fuller and better parliamentary scrutiny, she will be in a more receptive mood.
My amendment was acknowledged as perhaps not being the right one and I thank noble Lords for pointing that out to me. I am only a beginner, but in 20 years’ time I will probably still be saying that I am only a beginner and will be asking naive probing questions of a similar nature.
The speech on which I should like to comment is that of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I strongly agree with his statement about wind farms. I am pro-wind power but I have always thought that it is totally wrong that the system depends on farmers, whose businesses may be getting into trouble, putting in applications because they are approached by a wind power company to have a wind farm on their property. There is absolutely no strategy nationally—although it would probably be better if it were done regionally—for asking where in the region we can appropriately put wind power. I thought that the noble Lord made a very good point and I fully support what he said. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 34 to 36 not moved.]
37: Clause 5, page 3, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Before designating a statement as a national policy statement for the purposes of this Act, the Secretary of State must carry out an appraisal of the impact of the policy set out in the statement on built heritage, scheduled ancient monuments and important landscapes.”
The noble Lord said: This debate follows on very well from the extremely important debate that we have just had. These amendments all relate to heritage. We are debating legislation that would create vast new powers to sweep aside what may be in the way of new development. The Infrastructure Planning Commission, in the Bill as before us, would have powers to set aside the all-too-fragile system that has been developed, through the experience of many decades, to protect the historic environment.
At Stansted, a second runway would require the demolition of two scheduled monuments and 13 grade 2 listed buildings. Other monuments, higher-grade buildings and conservation areas would be seriously affected, including a grade 2* listed church. Some time ago, Southend Borough Council, ambitious for its airport, proposed to dig beneath the grade 1 listed St Laurence Church, insert a raft and roll the structure to a site nearby. That did not happen, but the borough has now issued a new issues and options document for the Southend Airport joint area action plan, which at this stage omits to say what might happen to St Laurence Church, although ominously a picture of the church appears in the document. I mention these simply as two current illustrations of the inevitable clash between development and heritage as we seek to improve our national infrastructure. In our small, densely inhabited and built-upon country, we have to proceed, not dilatorily, but with immense care as we plan for new development, especially major infrastructure.
I am not saying, of course, that heritage ought always to prevail. I am seeking in these amendments to ensure that we are enabled to make such decisions on a fully informed and careful basis and that we do not damage or destroy heritage without thinking in a balanced way about what we are doing. No one disputes that we need a capacity to take planning decisions—and certainly to take planning decisions where heritage is concerned—more expeditiously, or that we are going to have to provide new sources of energy supply, new transport infrastructure and so forth. But equally, I suggest, no civilised or sensible person wants such innovations to be unnecessarily at the expense of our treasured historic environment. We must not throw the baby out with the bath water.
I appreciate what the Minister said at Second Reading about the Government’s determination to ensure that national benefits are balanced fairly against local impacts. I am not sure, however, that she quite stated the issue as it really is. Local heritage may be of national importance, and cumulatively the web of local heritage is essential to the fabric of our country. My noble friend also assured us that national policy statements,
“will reflect existing policies and priorities where relevant, such as the protection of habitats or heritage”.—[Official Report, 15/7/08; col. 1161.]
I believe, however, that we have more to do to ensure that heritage is appropriately safeguarded in the Bill.
The Government anticipate, the Minister has told us, a dozen or so national policy statements. Amendment No. 37 would lay a duty on the Secretary of State, before designating a national policy statement, to carry out—and I would also say publish—an appraisal of its impact on the built heritage, scheduled monuments and important landscapes. Amendment No. 175 would require an applicant for an order granting development consent to demonstrate full regard for conservation of the built environment, scheduled monuments and important landscapes. Under Amendment No. 187, an applicant would have to consult, during the pre-application process, English Heritage or Cadw, and under Amendment No. 214 the IPC in turn may accept an application for consideration only following its own consultation with English Heritage or Cadw.
Amendment No. 377 would require that an order granting development consent that affects any grade 1 or grade 2* listed building must be subject to special parliamentary procedure, on the analogy of provisions already in the Bill requiring special parliamentary procedures where a development order would affect local authority-owned land, National Trust land, and commons, open spaces and field garden allotments.
Amendment No. 439B would add to the list of what is regarded as infrastructure in Clause 202 buildings, monuments and sites that have been designated as significant heritage assets. I certainly contend that heritage should properly be regarded as infrastructure. In the past 10 years, recognition has at last come in all parts of the country, and especially in old industrial cities and areas facing difficulty in adapting to the modern economy, that heritage is a cardinal economic asset. The Government have strenuously and successfully promoted heritage-led economic regeneration in Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham, Norwich, where I live and where I am a board member of the Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust, and many other places. A splendid instance of a comprehensive and imaginative plan for regeneration is the strategy for historic Gloucester now being developed by the Gloucester Heritage Urban Regeneration Company.
It would be economic fecklessness to allow, in a hasty attempt to modernise the national infrastructure, economically valuable heritage assets—heritage infrastructure—to be destroyed. If, however, following careful cost-benefit analysis of development proposals that entail loss of heritage, it is decided that the greater advantage for the public interest is in the new development, then the community infrastructure levy should be available to support compensatory refurbishment of heritage assets in the same authority area. Amendment No. 442, therefore, provides that regulations may specify criteria for determining allocation of CIL resources to conservation of heritage in areas where development orders permit the loss of some part of the heritage.
If heritage-led developments have to pay the CIL, it will be particularly important that heritage should also be able to benefit from the CIL. Otherwise heritage, already too vulnerable for lack of both public and private investment, will be rendered poorer still. Heritage charities will also be intensely interested in the conclusion of the Government’s deliberations on charities and the CIL. I note the Government’s intention to discuss details of the CIL regime with key stakeholders and engage in full consultation on the CIL regulations. I trust that the heritage charities will be fully involved in these discussions and consultations.
Perhaps the most important of these amendments is Amendment No. 399, which would add a new clause establishing a general duty on all public authorities, in exercising planning functions, to have regard to the purpose of conserving the historic environment. In tabling this new clause, I am seeking to create a duty in relation to the historic environment analogous to the duty to conserve biodiversity set out in Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, which stipulates:
“Every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity”.
The section goes on to say that conserving biodiversity includes,
“restoring or enhancing a population or habitat”.
It defines “public authority” as a Minister of the Crown; the National Assembly for Wales; a public body, including a government department, a local authority and a local planning authority; a person holding an office under the Crown, created or continued in existence by a public general Act, or the remuneration in respect of which is paid out of money provided by Parliament; or a statutory undertaker.
It is excellent that we have created this widespread duty to conserve biodiversity. We should now create an equal widespread duty to conserve the historic environment. The proposed new clause in Amendment No. 399, borrowing the precise wording of the NERC Act, requires that:
“Every public authority must, in exercising its planning functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving the historic environment”.
At the moment policy places decidedly less value on the historic environment than on biodiversity. The new clause would correct the imbalance.
Of course, there is no equivalent for the heritage of the United Nations Environment Programme Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992, but there should be; it is a challenge for those across the world who care about the built heritage and the historic environment to bring one into being. Meanwhile, there is no pressure through treaty commitment on the Government to write into legislation a similar duty in relation to the historic environment. However, they should do so.
It has been well said that heritage is the national imaginative fabric. It is the temporal dimension of our civilisation. Many people grieve at the casual desecration and waste of our heritage that has occurred in boom times at the hands of insensitive development. This is a moment, the end of a boom time and a historical turning point, when politicians in the western democracies need to re-examine the habitual assumptions of our politics. The cataclysms in the financial markets have brought home to our peoples that an unbalanced and excessive pursuit of material gain—the pursuit of wealth at almost any cost—leads to disaster. People are in revulsion against trashy values. They are questioning, with a new intensity of concern, the get-rich-quick values of the past 30 years. I do not, of course, say that we do not have to struggle might and main to retrieve our economy, but this is also a time when citizens will respond with relief and enthusiasm to policies which espouse non-material values, which enable continuity of the things that we have cherished and which help us to rediscover what can make us a decent, mutually supportive and respectful community. Among the best ways possible to do this will be for the Government to commit themselves much more strongly to policies that will sustain our heritage. I beg to move.
I stand, perhaps slightly predictably, to give my full support to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. Perhaps I should declare an interest: I serve as a member of the Council of Planning Aid and I was formerly a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. Amendment No. 37 relates to national policy statements and to strategy. It seeks to ensure that the impact of any proposed statement of the built heritage, scheduled ancient monuments and important landscapes is assessed prior to publication—the emphasis is on the word “prior”—in other words, that historic environment considerations are afforded similar strategic status to sustainability, on the one hand, and to green environment considerations on the other.
I also speak in support of Amendment No. 175. It relates to the application of the new commission for development consent for particular proposals, where it seeks to ensure that all development applications specifically demonstrate that account has been taken of the historic environment in forming the application. I do not want to delay the Committee unduly with endless anecdotes, but there is considerable evidence of the impact of large infrastructure projects which is not always direct. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, gave a couple of examples in his opening apologia. I cite Lowfield Heath, which is Grade II listed. The expansion of Gatwick has resulted in the loss of the village designed by William Burges. The cottages have been replaced by huge industrial units and car parks. The handful of remaining residents of the parish, all of whom must travel some distance to look after the church, can no longer manage that and the remarkable building now faces a very uncertain future. St Peter, Bickenhill, a Grade I church, survived motorways and factories, but not the increased over-flying and a possible airport expansion. The steady exodus of the population has led to its closure. St Clement’s, West Thurrock, a Grade I listed church, became redundant in 1977 as a direct consequence of the industrial development of the Thurrock estuary area. Those are just a few illustrations. Your Lordships might also like to note Harmondsworth, Harlington and Cranford which are all threatened by the Heathrow proposals.
As the Committee is aware, in the Church of England we carry a very heavy responsibility for an enormous proportion of the Grade I, Grade II and Grade II* listed buildings of our nation. For that reason, I wish to support wholeheartedly the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth.
When I intervened prematurely a while ago, I said that I thought that Amendment No. 37 was wonderful. In the 50 minutes since I made that statement I have not changed my mind. It is a very important amendment for this reason: we are moving to a policy where we shall make it possible for new and important development projects, which may affect many more people than in the past, to go through more swiftly and more effectively. I support that very strongly. The other side of the coin is that people must be able to feel, in so far as these developments are likely to affect the built heritage, ancient monuments and important landscapes, that there has been proper appraisal before they go forward. That is the proper balance for citizens. I believe that that view will be shared by a large part of the population. Therefore, I support this amendment and hope that the Government will be able to accept it.
I warmly applaud my noble friend for his crucial amendment that follows from the previous debate. In moving his amendment, my noble friend argued that we have come to a moment of truth in our social and economic history and have to ask ourselves what sort of nation we want to be and what values matter in our society. I always feel deeply troubled that we have moved into an age of instant living, which is having far-reaching effects on our intellectual and other activities. People do not want to think about their roots and origins, but understanding our roots, origins and history is important in making a success of our current society and our future society. This amendment is central to that consideration.
I ask the Minister, for whom, as she knows, I have unbridled admiration and whom I regard as one of the more cultured and civilised members of the Administration, to remember her role is that of Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Communities are not just a gathering of people who happen to live in a particular area; real communities have roots and have been fashioned by their interplay with the environment, the landscape and the struggles that have gone on in their vicinity. Living in a part of the country that until comparatively quite recent times was rooted in conflict—the border area of the north of England—I understand that, and it seems to me that it is important that we regenerate the significance of these issues. The amendment tabled by my noble friend emphasises that and deserves all possible support.
I find it quite difficult to follow the wonderful flow of the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I expect we shall be hearing from him again shortly. In supporting these amendments, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on the extraordinarily comprehensive, thorough and relatively brief way in which he made his case. The importance of the built heritage cannot be exaggerated. It is as important as the landscape heritage. They march together, interlocked.
At this stage, I should declare an interest as I arrived at that view from working in the National Trust for many years, ending up with the privilege of being its chairman, which was the finest job in the land, even though it was unpaid. The National Trust is built of landscape and built heritage intermixed, and we must always see them together. I was interested to note that the Bill refers to the National Trust Act 1907, which gave the National Trust power to declare buildings or land inalienable; that is to say, they cannot be subject to compulsory purchase, except through a parliamentary process. That is the huge strength and power of the National Trust and a highly responsible position. I thought it rather neat that the noble Lord’s amendment follows that clause in the Bill. That seems very appropriate.
I declare an interest as chairman of a community archaeological trust and a couple of heritage trusts, albeit up in Scotland, but the principle is the same. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, is seeking to protect archaeology. In Caithness, we have had huge problems with wind farms, like my noble friend Lord Reay. The real problem is money. When money is offered by a developer, as it will be with these infrastructure projects, people will be very keen, particularly in these economic times, to raise whatever finance they can when other forms of income are hard to generate, particularly for farmers and communities. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right that this is about communities. I have not discussed this with my noble friend Lord Reay, but I am sure that the wind farm proposals that he faces have divided communities. In Caithness, they have divided families, have divided the county into all sorts of groupings and have destroyed communities where people were working together. The incentives that a wind farm is able to offer have destroyed communities.
With that has gone the heritage. The remote areas where people want to put wind farms and find greenfield sites are where the archaeology of our heritage still is. There is no doubt that a huge amount of our archaeology and heritage has been destroyed, often by the Forestry Commission planting trees, which was not given proper consideration and has done immense damage. We must learn from our mistakes. Let us write this into the Bill in some form now so that the things that we cherish, which will be important for future generations as well as for ourselves, are taken into account.
I rise briefly to support this group of amendments, which follows the debate on the previous group of amendments and the debate on the group that I introduced. Respect for good design and the beautiful landscape of the past is no less important than creating it for the future, particularly if we think of what people value about where they live.
I wish to draw a short point to the attention of the Minister and ask a question. It follows on well from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and my noble friend Lord Caithness. The amendment uses the word “landscapes” and much heritage takes the form of landscape. In recent years, I have become more familiar with the landscape on the coast of east Essex and Suffolk. It contains some beautiful coastline, some National Trust properties and the Minsmere bird reserve, which is outstandingly beautiful. One can understand that that windy coastline may, at some stage, tempt wind farm developers. I support this amendment to the extent that there must be a complete appraisal of the value of that landscape before any such proposal is put forward.
My question comes from paragraph 3.9 of the White Paper, which contains a number of bullet points about things that national policy statements would need to reflect. One is that national policy statements would:
“Indicate how the Government’s objectives for development in a particular infrastructure sector had been integrated with other specific government policies, including other national policy statements”.
On the east coast of Essex and Suffolk, there are two very large nuclear power stations. I mentioned Bradwell the other day, which may well be redeveloped and there is, of course, Sizewell, which is a prime candidate for a further nuclear policy statement. If there is to be a national planning statement about nuclear power, how will that relate to the alternative, which some people in the area are pushing, that it should all be provided by wind farms instead?
I found myself with a friend the other day standing on the coastline. Right down to the south I could see Bradwell; further north, one could see Sizewell. I said to her: “Which would you rather have? A nuclear power station at Bradwell and another reactor power station at Sizewell; or would you rather see the entire coast, onshore and offshore, populated by wind farms?”. She said, “There is only one answer to that question. Yes, those two buildings are large, but they are quite specific, clearly located and, in a sense, one has got used to them”. She would be absolutely horrified if she thought that, in place of that, there would be a complete forest of wind turbines on and offshore, which, even if they are all working, would not produce as much electricity as would the two nuclear power stations.
As I understand it, there will be two separate national policy statements. The question is: how will they be related to each other? Will that be done by the Secretary of State putting that forward to Parliament for consideration, or will it be for Parliament to say, “We have two statements; Parliament must decide what is to be done”? I would be most grateful if the noble Baroness could explain how that is to operate.
I was not going to talk to this group of amendments, because the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and other noble Lords have spoken so splendidly on what is a real issue, and one that we need to ensure is taken account of in national policy statements. I wanted to draw a parallel and to speak on a subject on which I have not tabled an amendment. I believe that the Minister intends to do the right thing, but I want to press her to ensure that she will do the right thing on our alternative cathedrals and churches—that is, our most important nature reserves, the Natura 2000 Network and the SSSI network, which are, in fact, equivalent to the cathedrals, churches, historic buildings, beauty and spirituality about which both the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Judd, spoke.
I can remember the bad old days of development in this country when it was almost as if every road building, airport and port proposition was an exercise in joining up the dots of our natural nature reserves, the Natura 2000 sites and our SSSIs, because they were the only open space available between existing development. I do not want us to go back to that point, because we all remember the huge conflict and public concern that there was at that time in places such as Twyford Down and Newbury. There was Maplin, which we mercifully fought off as a site for a new London airport, although I gather that the mayor favours that as a prospect. Of course, we have my favourite topic, the Severn Barrage, which would destroy a substantial number of the Natura 2000 sites and SSSIs.
I am cheating a bit in my comments on Amendment No. 37 because, although it is about the ancient heritage, archaeology, architecture and landscape, I know that the Minister intends to bring forward regulations to address the relationship of national policy statements to the habitats directive, which takes account of the Natura 2000 sites. I press her also for clarification on the relationship between national policy statements and the SSSI series protected under national law. I have not tabled an amendment covering those issues because I believed that that guidance would be sufficient, but it would be admirable if we could see the draft regulations before Report to reassure ourselves that there is an adequate relationship being mapped out between those alternative cathedrals and the national policy statement.
I would hate it to be thought by outsiders that I was of the philistine tendency.
I was wondering about Amendment No. 37, because it is so big picture, but I shall be interested to hear how the Minister responds to it. It is important, given that national policy statements may be location-specific, so that both the medium-sized and the big picture are relevant. I am not sure that I have heard anything to this effect, but it seems to me that the real crunch is: can an NPS not proceed because of heritage and landscape issues and could an application be refused because of those issues? That would focus the mind and ensure that these matters are fully considered. I will not repeat all the things with which I agree about the importance of both of those to our culture, our way of life and all the things that we appreciate about our country.
This is another of those areas where there is general agreement. The noble Baroness has put her assent in terms that force me to my feet to agree; otherwise, I might have stayed seated. We need to recognise a difficulty, because Amendment No. 37 applies to national policy statements. There is a problem with that because the majority of national policy statements will not be site-specific. Because they are not site-specific, it will be difficult to apply assessment of the heritage aspects of a particular development. The noble Lord has already tabled amendments in this field and may need to think a little more on Report about how we build consideration of the detailed subjects into the procedures of the commission and the procedures which the applicants are required to undertake. That is where the real work will have to be done.
When you deal with the applicants' procedures, part of the application might be to enhance and improve conservation of buildings, and so on. That is a separate consideration, but I thought it worth mentioning here. It will be difficult to consider those matters under Clause 37 whereas, later in the Bill, we can do something practical about these issues.
This has been another excellent debate about, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, things that we all appreciate. I am grateful for the kind words of my noble friend Lord Judd. We spent a very interesting but rather long evening in a church hall listening to a lecture on the history of water power in the Lake District, accompanied by many different slides, as I remember. The argument was that many communities had been built around the industrial heritage. That is now of course the rural heritage, but it was kind of him to say what he did. I hope that it is true because I do not need to be persuaded again of the value of what we are discussing in these amendments. The absolute test of our planning system is its ability to reconcile the need to protect heritage, however we describe it, as well as the need to provide the things that we need to thrive as a community. In this context, we are talking about infrastructure. The point about our planning system is that it provides that robust protection. This is about what shapes, frames and nurtures community, which is why it is important.
This Government have a fine record of promoting heritage as the source of regeneration as well as an asset of conservation. We have strengthened the protections for world heritage sites, and we are about to strengthen our planning statements on planning the historic environment and archaeology by bringing together PPSs 15 and 16. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve because we take it extremely seriously. I will respond to noble Lords’ amendments in turn and with sympathy, but first I should say that the test is whether the amendments would improve the system, which does work, in the context of what the Bill is about.
Amendment No. 37 would require the Secretary of State to carry out a specific appraisal of the impact of the relevant policy on the built heritage, scheduled ancient monuments and important landscapes in addition to the existing appraisal of sustainability. I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, on the points that she made, because she did not table a formal amendment and I do not have a formal response. I have talked about how our new protections of heritage, such as bringing together PPSs 15 and 16, will strengthen what we already do. They will in turn critically feed into the national policy statements and will be taken account of in IPC decisions, so we already have the foundation for the sort of protections which my noble friend Lord Howarth seeks.
It would not, however, be productive to require a separate appraisal of heritage. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, made an important point about the sheer difficulty of doing this, given the nature of the NPSs. It could also be counterproductive, because heritage and sustainability are interdependent but are not always seen to be so. When we link the two, we create a platform to advocate that what we build must be both. As I said in our debate on design, it would lead to competing demands for a separate appraisal and for the disaggregation of the very thing that we are trying to make the great strength of these national policy statements—their ability to carry and integrate policies and apply them so that we are all certain of what will be achieved and of what is predictable for those who want to invest in our infrastructure and those who will have to live with the consequences. I cannot accept Amendment No. 37, on those grounds.
I assure my noble friend Lord Howarth that the process of appraising sustainability will have to take account of heritage matters. There is no way in which it cannot. It will cover the effects on the natural and built environment and the landscape and the cultural heritage, including architectural and archaeological heritage. All this will be fully and properly assessed as part of the appraisal of sustainability, which I hope reassures my noble friend Lord Judd, too. These will be considered at a strategic level and, where they are identified as key sustainability issues, they will form a focus point in the process. That is the purpose of integration. Both the appraisal of sustainability and the NPS will be subject to public consultation and to scrutiny in Parliament.
Amendments Nos. 175 and 187, which would amend Part 5, aim to add specific provision for heritage to the pre-application process. Clause 36(3) makes it clear that certain details and documents must be included in an application for an order granting development consent. Amendment No. 175 seeks to add a requirement that applications must also demonstrate full regard for the conservation of the built heritage. Amendment No. 187 would specify English Heritage and Cadw as statutory consultees for applications in their relevant areas.
Here I must reiterate familiar arguments. The decisions of the IPC will depend on the national policy statements, and it is essential that they set out policy as clearly as possible on the type of infrastructure in question. When taking decisions, therefore, the IPC will take into account the NPS, prescribed matters and the local impact report. This is where local significance and local heritage come into play. As my noble friend Lord Howarth said, local heritage is of deep concern to local communities. Under Clause 58, local authorities will be invited to submit a local impact report, once an application has been accepted, which will give details of the likely impact of the proposed development on the authorities’ area. They will be bound to assess the impact on the local environment and to have an environmental impact statement. Where applications are accompanied by an environmental impact assessment—we expect that most will be—the EIA will look at the likely significant impacts of the proposals, many of which will include effects on landscapes of historical, cultural or archaeological significance, which all fall under the heritage umbrella.
Amendment No. 214 is also part of this concern, and would require developers to consult English Heritage and Cadw. The pre-application procedure requires consultation with local authorities, affected people and parties, and statutory consultees. It has yet to be determined which bodies should be statutory consultees for this purpose, and it would not be right—it would be too constraining and too rigid—to set out a list in the Bill. We do, however, expect English Heritage and Cadw to be specified for applications in their relevant areas. I hope that my noble friend is reassured by that.
Amendments Nos. 377 and 399, which would amend Part 7, aim to place additional protections on listed buildings. Acceptance of Amendment No. 377 would mean that development consent orders, which affect listed buildings, could proceed only if subjected to special parliamentary procedure. I was grateful for the explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, of how those procedures have attached to the National Trust property.
Members of the Committee are no doubt aware that special parliamentary procedures are complex and extremely time-consuming for everyone involved. Frankly, they are usually avoided if at all possible. I think the idea would strike fear into the heart of those who look after our heritage if they felt that they had to go through these processes. Some special parliamentary procedures appear in the Bill because these provisions are based on existing legislation, in particular on equivalent provisions in the Acquisition of Land Act 1981, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred. In short, we are replicating existing legal provisions only in so far as they are already established features of the protection of special types of land against compulsory purchase.
In all sincerity, we do not believe that it is sensible or necessary to extend the scope of special parliamentary procedures to new areas, given the complexity and extra time that this would involve. In the context of the Bill, it would run counter to the need for a faster, less complex single consent regime, which is one of the great prizes that the Bill has to offer. Again, let me reassure the noble Lord that the fact that we are moving towards a single consent regime absolutely does not imply any reduction in the protection granted to heritage assets. We do not intend promoters of major infrastructure projects to have to seek a separate listed building consent or conservation area consent. There will be no need for a separate bit of paper. However, heritage will be looked at specifically under the single consent regime.
I stress, because this has inspired much of the debate this evening, that there will be no reduction in the justified protections which our listed buildings and heritage assets currently enjoy. We intend the IPC to consider specifically the justification for works that would affect a listed building or a heritage asset by using the same considerations that Ministers and local planning authorities presently apply under the existing heritage consent regimes.
We intend that in considering whether to grant development consent that would affect a listed building, the IPC shall have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses, and likewise for cases of major projects which affect scheduled monuments and conservation areas. To make that clear, we intend to prescribe these matters in the decision test under the powers already in Clause 101(2)(c).
Where the IPC considers that works to listed buildings and so on are not justified, it should not grant consent for such works. It may be that the IPC will approve other parts of the application which would not affect the heritage asset, but decisions on whether to authorise works that would affect heritage assets would be taken specifically in terms of heritage value and not merely as one factor among many. As I said, and the noble Lord might appreciate my reiterating it, we intend that the IPC will contain sufficient heritage expertise in order for it to reach those decisions. I hope it is clear that we are determined to maintain the protections that these buildings enjoy.
Amendment No. 399 would place an additional duty beyond those already found in Sections 66 and 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 for planning authorities to have regard to the purpose of conserving the historic environment. It is important to say that because this is where the protections lie. As my noble friend Lord Howarth knows, those duties are: to have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architecture or historic interest which it possesses, and to have special regard to the desirability of preserving and enhancing the character and appearance of conservation areas. Those are extremely strong and explicit protections. We already have them and we observe them.
In Amendment No. 399 my noble friend wants to add a new general duty on every public authority to have regard to the preservation of the historic environment, in the context of a Bill which is very different from the 2006 Bill from which he quoted. Although it is an admirable intent, we already require public authorities to do that through existing planning legislation and the consents regime. I have heard no calls for additional duties of this nature on an already complex and overloaded system. One problem is that the language of the amendment is not consistent with what is already in law, and the location of this duty is not clear in relation to other duties. It would serve only to duplicate existing law at a time when the whole thrust of what we are trying to do in planning is to simplify it; that is, to make it easier for the public guardians to do what is right by local and national heritage, and to ensure that we have the right skills in the right places. That is what this debate has been about, with a passion across the Chamber.
Amendment No. 377 adds more layers of requirements to a strong and tested system. I would be afraid that rather than add to this system, it could make it more dysfunctional. But in the context of a Bill that is aiming to provide the certainty that, as we heard yesterday, is sought by so many promoters and businessmen, the danger is that adding a general duty could act as another deterrent to those investors whom we want to come to this country to provide the infrastructure that we need.
I turn now to the proposed amendments to the CIL in Part 11. Amendment No. 439B would define “infrastructure” for the purposes of Clause 202 so that it included buildings, monuments and sites that have been designated as significant heritage assets. In effect, that would allow for CIL revenues to be spent on such items. I have made the same case on the design amendments. The Government have been very clear about the purpose of the CIL. It is a new mechanism to allow local planning authorities to raise additional revenue to help to fund the delivery of the infrastructure that we need to support the development of an area. The CIL is focused on infrastructure provision. We want it to be spent on ensuring that, when development comes forward, it is sustainable by helping to fund new facilities, such as schools, health centres, parks and play areas.
Because of that focus on infrastructure, I am not sure that the amendment makes sense if it is intended to allow for the CIL to be spent on any building, monument or site that has been designated as “a significant cultural asset”, as the amendment proposes. Clause 198(2) contains the obligation on the Secretary of State to ensure through the CIL that it is spent on funding the costs incurred in development. But that is not to say that it would not be of benefit to our heritage assets in other ways. If it were decided that new development gave rise to the need for a new community centre and an underused listed building could be converted for that purpose, the CIL could be spent to restore the building because the need for the community centre was prompted by new development. That is a very important facility.
My noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport tabled a second amendment, Amendment No. 442, to provide that the CIL regulations may specify criteria for allocating CIL revenue to heritage conservation where heritage is impaired by development. Again, CIL revenue could be used to support the improvement of heritage in some circumstances, but we could not agree to the CIL being used to fund conservation where the development has some negative impact on the heritage in question. But that is not to say that mitigating the impact of development on heritage should not be addressed. It should. Our concern with the amendment is that the Government believe that the CIL is not the right mechanism. We should perhaps look at Section 106 agreements for greater flexibility.
In response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, we will have an overarching national policy statement that will bring together all the forms of the energy we need and discuss the balance between the various sources of energy, and from that will flow the suite of separate energy policies. The noble Lord will have his overarching energy policy statement which will address the sorts of issues that he raised.
I am sorry to have gone on at such length, and I am conscious that others are waiting to take the Floor. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am extremely conscious of the time and that we are awaiting a very important debate. It is unfortunate that we have been so constrained for time in debating this immensely important subject of heritage and the issues that arise for it from the Planning Bill. I am extremely grateful to all Members of the Committee who have contributed. We have heard wise and impassioned speeches, including speeches from people who presently and in the past have exercised very senior responsibility in relation to heritage. The quality of the contributions and the authority of the contributors have belied the brevity of the debate.
The debate has served to indicate just how difficult, how sensitive and how important those issues are. I know that my noble friend recognises that and that, informed by what she has learnt of the feeling of the Committee, she will go back to her department and think further about how we can find practical ways to secure the heritage in the context of our very necessary programme to rebuild the national infrastructure. I hope that we can come back to these issues on Report and that by then my noble friend will be able to offer us more precise measures that the Government feel will address these needs. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 38 and 39 not moved.]
Legislative Reform (Consumer Credit) Order 2008
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17 June be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order is to amend the Consumer Credit Act 1974 in three ways: first, to exempt from regulation buy-to-let lending that meets certain specified conditions; secondly, to clarify the position on the provision of statements for fixed-sum credit agreements, such as personal loans; and, thirdly, to provide definitions of what constitutes “payments” for the purpose of issuing notices of sums in arrears for fixed-sum and running account credit agreements. Examples of these include credit cards and consumer hire agreements. The measures update the provisions introduced into the 1974 Act by the Consumer Credit Act 2006, which received Royal Assent on 31 March 2006. The measures therefore ensure that the regulations fully reflect the original policy intentions.
Until April 2008, the vast majority of buy-to-let loans were exempt from regulation. This was either because lenders were able to use an existing exemption under the 1974 Act or because the loan was for more than £25,000. The £25,000 limit was removed by the 2006 Act, effective from April, extending protection to all consumers’ credit agreements, regardless of value. This was in response to the changing nature of borrowing, with more and more loans above £25,000 not regulated. But it is not our intention to regulate buy-to-let lending in instances where the loan is secured on a property and the borrower, or a relative, intends to occupy less than 40 per cent of that property. Such activity is mainly for investment or business purposes. The risks to the borrower’s home are low in the event that they have difficulty repaying the loan. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that regulation is needed in such cases. A transitional arrangement has therefore been put in place to exempt buy-to-let loans from regulation until such time as the draft order comes into force.
The draft order creates a new exemption from regulation under the 1974 Act, covering consumer credit agreements for buy-to-let purposes. It applies where the loan is secured on the property and where the owner, or a relative, intends to occupy less than 40 per cent of the property. The measure will maintain the status quo regarding regulation for buy-to-let lending at no additional cost to industry or detriment to buy-to-let investors. Both will continue to benefit from a level playing field in the market.
The 2006 Act introduced a new requirement for lenders to provide borrowers with regular statements for fixed-sum credit agreements. The statements are intended to cover a period of up to one year, run consecutively, and be provided within 30 days of the end of the period they cover. However, the new requirements of the 2006 Act, taken together with Regulation 11 of the Consumer Credit (Information Requirements and Duration of Licences and Charges) Regulations 2007, do not fully meet these objectives. The existing wording in the 2006 Act does not allow for the provision in the 2007 regulations which gives the creditor 30 days to send the statements.
The draft order therefore revokes Regulation 11 of the 2007 regulations and amends the 1974 Act. It provides that under a regulated fixed-sum credit agreement, the lender must give the borrower statements covering consecutive periods of not more than one year, and that such statements must be provided within 30 days of the end of the period to which they relate.
The 2006 Act introduced a requirement for lenders to provide notices of sums in arrears to borrowers with regulated fixed-sum and running-account credit agreements, and for owners to have a similar obligation under consumer hire agreements. Certain conditions have to be satisfied before this obligation arises, some of which relate to payments. This has given rise to a discussion over the precise definition of the word “payments”.
The industry has suggested that a definition of “payments” is required to avoid it being construed more widely. A broader interpretation might include any sums falling due under the agreement at any time, rather than just scheduled repayments and hire payments—for example, default sums that might become due as a consequence of a missed regular payment or over-limit amounts on credit-card agreements which could become payable immediately the customer exceeds their credit limit. As a result, first notices of sums in arrears could be triggered more quickly than would otherwise be the case. The draft order therefore defines “payments” for the purpose of issuing notices of sums in arrears as those payments made at pre-determined intervals provided for under the terms of the agreement. In the case of consumer hire agreements, “payments” is defined to mean those payments made in relation to any period of hire as provided for under the terms of the agreement.
This measure will ensure that the costs to industry of issuing statements and notices of sums in arrears are kept to a minimum by providing greater clarity. It will also avoid any unintended or unnecessary changes to systems. In addition, it will provide more clarity for consumers, who will receive information in a comprehensible and consistent manner. I believe that the order will benefit both consumers and businesses. It clarifies the obligations of industry, it simplifies the framework for consumer credit, and I commend it to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17 June be approved. 12th report from the Delegated Powers Committee.—(Lord Brett).
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brett, for taking us through this Legislative Reform (Consumer Credit) Order 2008 so thoroughly. It passed through the other place unopposed and without debate. As the noble Lord has so described it, we support it. I do not need to describe it further other than to ask for clarification on a couple of points.
According to the department for business impact assessment, the combined savings arising from the order amount to some £103.2 million. The same assessment envisages no cost whatever. Can the noble Lord confirm that there will be no unforeseen cost to businesses or consumers as a result of the order? Secondly, despite the deregulation the order achieves, consumers will still be able to seek redress through the courts or the Office of Fair Trading. Can the Minister outline what action the Office of Fair Trading can take against lenders found to be in breach? That is all I wish to say at this stage.
My Lords, having congratulated the Minister on his elevation to future success, I understand that the noble Baroness will be relinquishing her position. This may be the last time we see her under these august circumstances. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, will replace her. We congratulate the noble Baroness on the charming and eloquent way in which she has conducted this portfolio.
My Lords, this is clearly an important order. The orders that come to us in this way are always highly technical; however, they raise very serious and important issues. It is important to see how buy-to-let lending, which was always intended to be excluded under the framework of the consumer credit legislation, will be dealt with. It is slightly less important, although nevertheless important for the lending community, to have clarification of what they need to do on the giving of statements for fixed-sum credit agreements. A technical matter, but one which is very important for the industry, is that there should be a clear definition of how payments for the purposes of issuing notices of sums in arrears are determined.
While I feel the heavy weight of the chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee behind me—the Minister has also sat on that committee—I must say that these issues should be dealt with by affirmative order. We cannot amend but we can scrutinise and it is very important that such issues are dealt with in that way. Also, I suggest—looking nervously at the Box—that an affirmative order concentrates the mind of those who draft these regulations to ensure that they are effective. This is a very good example of complex issues and I fear that despite the elevation of the noble Lord, Lord Brett, he will not appear on the “Today” programme tomorrow morning. Nevertheless, the regulations are very important for the industry. The combination of consultation and concentration on the affirmative order have produced regulations that I can support.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their contributions. I made my debut yesterday when the adrenalin was flowing faster and my nerves much tighter than they are tonight—the audience was much larger. I am very appreciative of the kindness and tolerance of the whole House, particularly of the Front Benches of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties. I am also delighted because the points that have been made are ones that I can respond to positively.
It is the case that unlike some pieces of legislation, this one has been heavily consulted on and enjoys broad support not only in Parliament but also across industry, and therefore I can offer the assurances sought by both speakers. I turn first to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. On the question of whether there will be additional burdens, I can assure her that there are no additional costs to business associated with these proposals. The proposal to exempt buy-to-let lending from the regulations simply maintains the status quo, while the definition of and proposals on statements ensure that the costs to business are kept to a minimum. There has also been considerable consultation within industry about how to minimise the costs to itself by issuing these statements.
The only point I would slightly disagree with is that this is a matter of deregulation. The Government do not believe that it is a question of deregulation at all; these are corrective measures designed to achieve what the original policy intention sought to provide in each case. However, in doing so, the provisions will ensure that the Consumer Credit Act 1974 does not place unnecessary or unintended burdens on business as a consequence of the ambiguities of the previous legislation, so in that sense I am able to offer the assurance that there should be no additional costs. On the noble Baroness’s second question about what will happen to people who are in breach, the 1974 Act provides under the exemptions that there can still be challenges to agreements in the courts on the grounds that the relationship between the creditor and the debtor is unfair. In addition, the debtor can complain to the Office of Fair Trading which can take action under the requirements of the creditor’s licence by, for example, imposing penalties or, if necessary, the licence can be revoked.
Turning to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, again I do not believe that there is a great deal between us. Having read the statement, I agree that these are highly technical matters, and while they may relieve the adrenalin they probably enhance the desire to go to sleep during the making of the statement. Noble Lords in this House, of course, are more likely to listen and always to make pertinent points, but I hope that we do not have any areas of major disagreement. On that basis, I hope that I have met the points that have been made and I commend the order.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to clear up a procedural matter. There is no question of a time limit on the Second Reading of a Bill. We hope that we will be able to get the Broads Authority Bill debated within the framework of the dinner time period, and we are hopeful, therefore, that Back-Bench Members can restrain themselves to around four minutes each in order to meet the target. However, I emphasise the fact that, of course, there is no question of a time limit on a Second Reading.
My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord the Deputy Chief Whip for making the position crystal clear. As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has already mentioned, when this important business was scheduled it was not anticipated that there would be so many speakers. However, this is an important debate and I hope that noble Lords will agree with the Deputy Chief Whip that although a limit of four minutes might be a guide for noble Lords who have important points to make, it is to the benefit of this Bill and the people of Norfolk that those points are made.
I want to make the point at this stage that the procedure involved in a contested Bill Committee means that those noble Lords who take part in the Second Reading debate are barred from taking part in the Committee stage itself. I know that three Members of my own Benches are speaking, and I would not like them to feel that they are being constrained for four minutes if they have important matters to air. In addition, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has courteously given advance notice that he intends to speak in the gap.
Broads Authority Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Norfolk Broads, situated in both Norfolk and Suffolk, are the UK’s most important wetland, a unique landscape with a designation equivalent to a national park. It was only in the 1950s that the origin of the shallow, reed-fringed lakes was discovered. They began as medieval peat diggings at a time when Norfolk was the economic powerhouse of the country. Subsequent flooding has given to later generations, including our own, the network of rivers and broads which so many people know and enjoy today. The local naturalist, Ted Ellis, called the Broads,
“a breathing space for the cure of souls”.
There is a spiritual quality to the Broads which a Bishop should recognise.
I ought to declare an interest that is unusual even by the standards of this House. The Bishop of Norwich continues to be the abbot of St Benet’s. St Benet’s Abbey is to be found on the river Bure, and on that site I still conduct an open air service every August. St Benet’s was the one monastery which Henry VIII commanded should continue, but it went the way of all the others eventually, and fascinating though the story is, the details are regrettably not relevant to the Bill. I ought also to declare an interest since for six years I was a non-executive board member of the Countryside Agency when it had a role in determining national park funding, the Broads Authority included.
It was as long ago as 1947 that Sir Arthur Hobhouse included the Broads in the 12 areas of England and Wales which he said should become new national parks, and it was not until 1988, with the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act, that his vision was fulfilled. In the mean time, the Broads had come under huge pressure. Water quality had declined and the consequences of phosphate pollution from sewage treatment works, bank erosion by boats and various other factors could have destroyed the special quality of the area for good. Much has been achieved over the past 20 years and the decline has not only been arrested, but reversed.
The boundary of the Broads area is tightly drawn around the flood plains and the lower reaches of the three main rivers, the Bure, the Yare and the Waveney. It excludes all the small towns around the Broads and actually contains no single whole parish. Instead, the Broads area has parts of 93 parishes and a total resident population approaching 6,000. The navigation area is also defined in the 1988 Act. It includes all the publicly navigable stretches of the rivers Bure, Yare and Waveney, and all their tributaries.
The Broads Authority has general duties identical to those of national parks: to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the Broads by the public. But there is a third duty, and that is to protect the interests of navigation. The Broads Authority is also a harbour authority. Its responsibilities include public safety provision and the maintenance of all that assists navigation, including moorings, dredging and marking. About a third of the income of the authority comes from the 10,000 people who own a boat on the Broads, and the other two thirds comes from the national park grant through Defra.
Promoting a Private Bill has not been a course of action undertaken lightly by the authority, but after years of discussion with government officials, it became clear that this is the only way to ensure that a series of important safety matters will be addressed. Many of the proposals in this Bill reflect those already implemented by British Waterways and the Environment Agency elsewhere, and which clearly need application in the Broads as well. The main purpose of the Bill is to obtain new powers for the Broads Authority to promote boat safety. The requirements of the Port Marine Safety Code as well as some specific incidents in the Broads make additional powers necessary.
There are a number of general provisions aimed at improving safety. For example, the Bill gives power to implement the National Boat Safety Scheme which already applies in waterways under the jurisdiction of British Waterways or the Environment Agency. It also gives power to introduce compulsory third party insurance for vessels; it gives powers to regulate better water skiing and wake boarding; it provides the authority with powers to deal with overhanging vegetation that poses a hazard to navigation. These necessary powers can be introduced on the Broads only by means of a Private Bill given the particular one-off status that the Broads possess.
The Department for Transport has been consulting on a draft Marine Navigation Bill. It has not yet been allocated any parliamentary time but I mention it as it is likely to contain provisions allowing harbour authorities to make general directions. However, Defra, in its report on this Bill, states:
“There is no conflict between the provisions in the draft Bill and the Broads Authority Bill. In addition, the Broads Authority Bill contains specific provisions which would not be covered in the proposed Bill. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to await the outcome of the consideration of the draft Marine Navigation Bill”.
The major issue of principle raised by those with concerns about the Bill is that its provisions are an interference with the public right of navigation. They argue for the right to unhindered use of tidal waterways. But the public right of navigation is already qualified and legally restricted, both under common law and under legislation passed by this House. The objective of public safety is a legitimate ground for qualifying a public right, hence measures introduced for the protection of drivers and other users of public highways. Compulsory seat belts and the ability of local authorities to regulate the way in which roads are used are two examples.
The other main aim of the Bill is to update some of the provisions in the original 1988 Act. These include the removal of the necessity to have a separate navigation account dealing purely with navigation income and expenditure. This has proved administratively bureaucratic. It also cuts across the authority’s aim of having an integrated approach to the management of the Broads.
There is also some modest change in the Bill to the considerations to be taken into account with regard to the appointments made by the Secretary of State to the authority. Ten of the authority’s current 21 members are appointed by the Secretary of State. At present, three are appointed after consultation with boating interests; two after consultation with farming and land-owning interests. For the future, it is proposed that the Secretary of State must consult with conservation and land-based recreational interests as well as with the boating, farming and land-owning interests, and have regard to the desirability of ensuring an overall balance between all these interests when making such appointments. When the membership of the authority was reduced from 35 to 21 three years ago, English Nature, the Environment Agency and the Countryside Agency all lost places on the authority and so there was some reduction in the extent of the representation of such interests which this provision in the Bill will assist the Secretary of State to restore.
Since the first draft of the Bill was published in April 2006 there have been extensive consultations with all who have an interest in the Broads. This has led to many significant changes to the Bill. The national and local boating organisations—the Royal Yachting Association, the British Marine Federation, the Inland Waterways Association, the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association and the Broads Hire Boat Federation—are all in agreement with the range of provisions in the Bill as it now stands. It has been a great achievement to get that level of consensus.
Fourteen petitions against the Bill have been deposited in this House, of which 12 are from private toll payers—that is 12 out of 10,000 overall—and two are from organisations. The first of those organisations is a boating club concerned about the application of the Bill’s provisions to private waters that connect with public navigation. An agreement has now been reached over the outstanding issues and the authority confidently expects that that petition will be withdrawn. The other petition is from the Norfolk Association of Town and Parish Councils. It seeks to provide direct parish council representation on the authority. The Secretary of State is currently consulting nationally on this issue. The authority is not necessarily opposed to the principle of parish council representation, but the present petition would reduce the number of people the Secretary of State could appoint to the authority from the wider public and those with a primary interest in the Broads as a national asset. The authority also thinks it would be premature to make a change prior to the outcome of the Defra consultation, let alone a decision on the future of local government in Norfolk and Suffolk. These are matters which would be appropriately debated in Committee should the Bill receive a Second Reading.
The Broads Authority has got the correct balance between the rights of navigation and improved safety on the Broads for the benefit of all who use these waterways. The majority of the provisions in the Bill already apply to waterways elsewhere in the country and so, in some degree, this is a catch-up measure in relation to one of our great national assets. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Bishop of Norwich.)
My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich on the able way in which he has introduced consideration of the Bill. He has expressed admirably what the Broads mean to people in Norfolk and Suffolk and, of course, their national and international significance. Their management is of great importance, therefore, and their unique status, which he has also described, justifies close examination, the opportunity for which is being provided by scrutiny of the Bill.
The right reverend Prelate mentioned the opinion of the Norfolk County Association of Parish and Town Councils, in which I declare an interest as its recently appointed president. I think that he also said—I do not want to misquote him—that there was no complete parish within the area that contains the Broads. Of course, however, the way in which they are managed affects the environment and livelihoods of people living in that part of Norfolk and Suffolk and, indeed, one might argue, in the whole of those counties.
I am aware that many useful and helpful changes have been made to the Bill since its introduction and the right reverend Prelate has described the degree of consultation that has been undertaken by the Broads Authority. One of the most useful things to come out of the consultation has been the recognition, again on all sides, that the Broads are different in the range of their interests and their economy from other national parks and thus that arrangements made for their management should, in some respects, reflect that difference.
I do not wish to impede the progress of the Bill because I know that the Broads Authority has worked hard to take account of the objections and concerns that have been raised during the consultation. However, noble Lords who have studied the fortunes of the Bill will know that from the beginning of its legislative journey real concerns have been voiced—not least in another place, where the Bill was twice blocked by objection—about the democratic deficit built into its governance arrangements. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate touched on those concerns. The Norfolk County Association of Parish and Town Councils has consistently lobbied for the Bill to include proposals for directly elected representatives of town and parish councils in the Broads area to the board of the Broads Authority. People in Norfolk and Suffolk, I think it would be fair to say, remain unconvinced that the Bill as it stands will enhance the accountability of the authority.
It is the case, of course, that the authority’s membership includes local authority appointees. They provide an important link with the community but they do not include representatives of the first tier of local government, nor are they directly elected. In another place the attention of Members was drawn to the contrast with arrangements put in place in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 whereby 20 per cent of members of the national park authority were to be elected by a poll of those on the local government electoral register within the park area. I have already stated that the arrangements for the Broads are different from those for national parks pure and simple, but I question whether the difference should extend to the principle of accountability. Concerns about accountability have been raised not only in another place but by the Select Committee. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what plans he might have to rectify the democratic deficit identified in the legislative passage of the Bill so far.
Incidentally, I welcome the Minister warmly to yet another manifestation. I wish him well in it. It is a big bracket. I feel certain that he will acquit himself in this role in just as distinguished a way as he has in the others in which I have known him—and that is, already, two in three years.
In the Third Reading debate in another place, Jonathan Shaw said:
“As a number of hon. Members have said, the Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to change the constitution of the Broads Authority … I want to look at this across the piece to take account of the other national parks in England. I will therefore issue a consultation on the future of the constitution and the composition of the Broads Authority and other park authorities in England”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/5/08; col. 802.]
The department’s website indicates a closing date for that consultation on 28 November, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments. Maybe, at this stage in his post, those comments will be speculation, but any comment that he cares to make will be welcome.
I would also welcome the Minister’s comments on quite how the outcome of the consultation in Norfolk and Suffolk—and indeed elsewhere in the country—for the governance of the Broads and the national parks will be affected by the Government’s proposals for the reform of local government in the same areas. Given that citizens in this country are not being given a say in this process on what kind of local government structure they want, or indeed on whether they want it at all, the omens are not brilliant. However, I feel sure that the Minister, with his customary good cheer, will produce some comforting remarks for us all this evening.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his clear and helpful explanation of the powers of the Bill. Perhaps I should begin by saying that I have no personal interest whatsoever to declare. I live in the north of Scotland and was alerted to the Bill by a colleague who worked with me when I occasionally flew over the Broads about 25 years ago professionally.
What began to interest me most about the Bill is that it seemed when I first read it—and, on further examination of it, my mind has not changed—that it was largely unnecessary. If there is one thing that I always wish to challenge in your Lordships’ House, it is unnecessary legislation. None of us needs reminding of the already burdensome level of legislation with which we have to deal day by day.
The right reverend Prelate gave us helpful background on the nature of the Broads—the ribbon-like structure based on three rivers, rather than a single expanse of water. As he described, the traffic in earlier days was mostly commercial whereas now it is largely recreational. It is an area of outstanding beauty with a wide diversity of fauna and flora, much of it enhanced by the existence of the Broads Authority, the value of which, in terms of what has been done to enhance wildlife and flora there, has been appreciated by the yachtsmen who regularly sail there. However, the competing interests on conservation on the one hand and navigation on the other are the chief causes for concern and have caused the petitions to be put down. The Broads Authority already has the ability to enforce by-laws and issue directions and it has both the general and navigation accounts, which the right reverend Prelate referred to, to assist in this purpose.
One of the first things that puzzles me is that, if the Bill is largely about safety, the bulk of its contents seems to relate to additional controls over navigation in much the same way as would perhaps sensibly apply to commercial harbours. The Broads, however, are manifestly not a commercial harbour. I hope that when he comes to wind up, the right reverend Prelate—or perhaps the Minister—can give us clear statistics on safety issues affecting the Broads. How safe or unsafe are they, compared with other inland waterways? If they are safe, why are the additional measures necessary? Are there more accidents on the Broads than on other waterways, comparable or incomparable? What are the statistics that make the changes so necessary?
A boat safety scheme is already in place under the by-laws that can be generated by the 1998 Act. Is it really necessary to add complexity to what has apparently worked well for 20 years, with some 30-odd clauses in the Bill? To take insurance as one issue, would it not be much more sensible, and certainly much more straightforward, simply to make insurance a prerequisite of the issue of a boat licence?
The Bill seems to demand that all aspects of navigation should come under the ambit of the Broads Authority, rather than continuing to rely on the current and apparently sensible, and certainly less cumbersome, method of changes to the by-laws, which already provide a forum for public scrutiny, debate and consultation not otherwise available to Broads toll payers. That point perhaps elaborates on the arguments that my noble friend Lady Shephard put before us on democratisation issues.
The Bill, however, goes even further. Clause 6 goes into some detail about the further directions that may be given by the navigation officer, a person appointed under Section 10(7) of the 1998 Act. What are the qualifications that the navigation officer must possess? What qualification should he possess in the future? Does the person now holding that appointment have the necessary qualifications? How will the qualifications apply to any person appointed by the authority to act as deputy, or one of several deputies, to the navigation officer?
So far, in the conversations that I have had about the Bill, I have not heard any clear explanation about why it appears necessary to introduce what many regard as extreme and inappropriate powers to control—and even possibly close—navigation. For what good reason does the Bill extend the executive area to private adjacent waters? One could be forgiven for thinking that this might simply be a way of raising revenue. With regard to Clause 36, I hope that the right reverend Prelate, when he comes to wind up, will be able to explain what is so special about Breydon Water that under the Bill it is in future to form part of the navigation area.
All that the Bill proposes seems to generate substantial extra cost through administration, IT systems, extra staffing and so on, let alone the maintenance of Breydon Water and any other waters that have to be included in it, because they have to be dredged. I hope that we can hear how those costs are going to be met. Will the funds come solely from the navigation budget? If so, what impact will that have on current dredging programmes?
The right reverend Prelate referred to the navigation and general accounts. Schedule 7 to the Bill amends the 1988 Act to merge the two accounts, but I found the explanation for it by the right reverend Prelate a little thin. I hope that he might be able to elaborate on it a little. We need explanation of the virtue of such a merger. What is the attitude of Defra to it? Perhaps the Minister can tell us.
I have the distinct impression that, when the Bill was first considered and drafted, there was perhaps not the fullest consultation with all those with whom it would have been wise to consult. Individual rights that have existed hitherto seem to have been turned on their heads and unprecedented levels of control over navigation are proposed. Side agreements appear to have been struck involving the Broads Authority, the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Federation, but the toll payers, who I understand—the right reverend Prelate confirmed it—contribute some £1.8 million to the maintenance of the Broads navigation schemes, are not to have representation in any side agreement. It is no wonder that they are concerned. The wording of the earlier drafts of the Bill seems to have been instrumental in stirring up controversy, in particular the use originally of the term “Broads National Park”.
The competing interests of encouraging visitors and protecting the environment were recognised in Lord Sandford’s review many years ago. The Broads have a third goal of protecting navigation. I hope that the Bill is not trying to create a national park through the back door. If it is a gleam in anyone’s eye that this should be the case, it needs to be closely examined.
Like my noble friend Lady Shephard, I have no desire to see a Bill fall without thorough debate. I remember piloting a Private Member’s Bill through this House some 25 years ago. That was described as a “tender plant”. A private Bill such as this seems more tender still.
While sitting up in Scotland for the past couple of months, I have reflected on the concerns about the Bill that have been brought to my attention and I am afraid that there seems to have been a substantial breakdown of trust between the Broads Authority and the toll payer constituency, leading in many cases to the petitions that have been referred to. I hope that it is not too late to embark on a thorough round of consultation and that the Broads Authority will at least consider using its existing powers, or modify the Bill in some way so as to take account of the concerns that have been raised, to make sensible progress. I fear that, if that is not done, the result is likely to be both expensive and potentially divisive.
I hope that those points can be taken on board. We all think that the Broads are a marvellous part of the world and have to be nurtured in every sensible respect, but this Bill seems to go a little too far and to have caused great anxiety.
Indeed, my Lords. I support my friend the Abbot of St Benet’s, better known to your Lordships as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, in putting forward the Bill.
My interest is not just romantic and recreational. In 1977, I was chairman of the Norfolk County Council planning and transportation committee when the then Countryside Commission suggested that the Broads be a national park. We set up a steering committee that led eventually to the 1988 Bill and the creation of the Broads Authority. Many of us hoped that this would lead to a national park—at this stage, I must declare an interest as a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. The Broads Authority has done an excellent job, but it is time to move on and complete the job that we started.
I have some sympathy with the Norfolk County Association of Parish and Town Councils on direct election, but agree that, with the present uncertainty about the future of Norfolk and Suffolk local government, this should be debated later. Indeed, I shall bore your Lordships on the subject of unitary authorities in due course—although I am not saying which way.
This is a complex subject. I reiterate the curious area that is covered by the Broads Authority: it is only part of 92 parishes, and no complete parish is included. Only some 6,000 people live in the area. I am not totally clear, therefore, how an election could, would or should take place, but I have some sympathy with the view that some elected members should be present.
I also emphasise the importance of the boat safety aspects of the Bill, which would require boats to have what one might call an MOT and third-party insurance. Over the years, I have had personal experience of many boating tragedies and know how important these measures will be for everyone. I remember, many years ago, the staff whom my parents employed going on a Broads cruise. A child fell overboard and was drowned. At the age of 13, I was absolutely shattered; I did not believe that that sort of thing could happen.
Many of us thought that the Act that went through in 1988 was a temporary solution, but it seems to have taken 20 years to start to improve it. That may not be a very long time in relation to the medieval peat-diggings that created the Broads, but it is quite long enough. Let us get on with it.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for not putting down my name for the debate—I shall speak briefly in the gap—but I thought that I might be involved in Committee, which is why I did not. I support the Bill. Like others, I have interests to declare. First, like the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, I was involved in the early discussions that took the Broads through to something of a national park with the uniquely water-based arrangement that exists. Secondly, I have been a boat owner on the Broads for 25 years and am well aware of the dangers of the wash to the reed beds. I therefore think that I know the area as well as many.
As other noble Lords have rightly said, the Broads are an arena where conflicting interests converge and contest for space. They include boat owners, but also sailing versus motor, which is one of the reasons for the issues arising over Breydon Water, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, will appreciate. There is a problem of the holiday trade; there is a problem of fishermen, which has not been mentioned and which can lead to issues for both them and boat users; there is the problem of birdwatchers; there is the problem of farmers; there is the problem of the concerns of environmentalists. I remember being shocked as a fairly new Norwich city councillor when I was told by a farmer in the area that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was offering grants to drain the Broads and that, simultaneously, the Department of the Environment was offering grants to farmers not to take up the grants from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That suggested that joined-up government was long overdue.
The Broads are fragile. They are, as the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, said, occasionally dangerous. They need strengthened management to take us through into the next couple of decades. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard—I agree also to some extent with the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur—I am uneasy about the democratic deficit. I hope that as we move, I trust, to an agreed reform of local government, we will eventually have the head space to make good that democratic deficit to ensure that appropriate weight is given to the views and positions of all the players and interests involved. Given that one reservation, I very much support the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, apologise for not having my name down on the speakers list. I am afraid that I simply did not chase up the instructions that I gave to make sure that it was down.
As one goes through the Bill clause by clause, one finds little to disagree with in each. For all my life until comparatively recently, I was at least based part time in East Anglia—usually Norfolk. I heard on many occasions reports of things going wrong on boats. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has just said, there are competing pressures on this unique ecosystem—I admit that it was man made a long time ago—and it requires a balancing act and its own special governance.
This brings us back to the point about the democratic deficit—although it may be difficult to discuss in terms of local government, and may be something of a flexible subject, because we do not know quite what we mean by it. On a board of 21, finding a few people who are directly elected by those within it would not have been beyond the wit of man. So I would hope that that could be looked at further.
With my admittedly not totally up-to-date local knowledge, I think that a tidying-up is needed here. That is something that should be periodically looked at. The existence of competing interests has been known about locally for a long time—the pleasure cruiser against the sailing boat, and so on. Something should be down there to look at and deal with that issue. With new forms of water activity, plus agriculture and environment, there should be a specific body there, but that body should make way for some form of directly elected local input because, let us face it, if it is a unique situation, a unique outlet is probably needed.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich for introducing the Bill and presenting the background against which the Bill is brought before us. I hesitate to some extent—although only to some extent—as a Lincolnshire fen-man to talk about the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. I also hesitate to pun by saying that there appears to be broad but rather thin support for the Bill. However, I am very mindful of the comments of friends from the other place, both Mr Keith Simpson and Mr Richard Bacon, who want the Bill to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. That process has begun with the debate that we have had this evening. It has been particularly useful to have the wise speeches made by noble Lords in contributing to this debate.
We are not just dealing with a normal national park. We are dealing with a very special part of England, which needs dedicated management. The Broads Authority therefore has special responsibilities, not least the responsibility to protect the interests of navigation, which form part of its principal objectives. In many ways, it is that latter issue that presents the particular challenge. Will the Minister address particular issues before the Bill goes to Committee? If it is not possible to put answers on the record this evening, could he write to us all about these matters?
As my noble friend Lord Glenarthur pointed out, the navigation officer is mentioned as a key player in this Bill, but what is the definition of a navigation officer? On funding, is there a risk that local representation on the navigation committee will be reduced; will navigation funds, if merged with the main Broads Authority accounts, be clearly identified? Will they be ring-fenced within the authority’s accounts? The provision for “general directions” to be given by the Broads Authority enables it to have considerable powers over navigation areas. What assurance can the Minister give that all interested parties have been fully consulted on this? There appears to be some concern that they have not been. The Inland Waterways Association is broadly supportive of the intention of the Bill, but it is concerned that navigation is not being kept to the forefront. It would be useful to know whether the Minister agrees.
Noble Lords have pointed out the democratic deficit in how the authority is constituted. I trust that the Committee will examine this. Has the Minister considered ways in which directly elected representatives could be part of the authority?
We have the opportunity to improve this Bill. It is important that Parliament gets it right for all those who use the Broads for recreation or as a place to live and work, to look after and to care for.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich for his speech, together with all Members who have contributed to what I think has been an extremely interesting, informative and useful debate for when we consider the Bill at its next stage, in the special arrangements for such Bills in Committee. I cannot bring great experience of knowledge of the Broads to your Lordships' House, although the debate today has certainly prompted me to gain that experience. However, as noble Lords know, I live in Birmingham, which has extensive waterways. It has a huge canal network; there are more canals in Birmingham than in Venice. I recognised some of the points that had been raised about the tensions between different legitimate users of the waterways. That is a very important point.
While the authority has come under some criticism tonight, it would be fair to say that it can be no easy task to manage the authority and deal with those tensions in a way that commends itself to everybody.
I should explain that Defra is the sponsoring department for the national parks and the Broads Authority, which is why I stand before your Lordships tonight. Of course, although I cannot claim a great knowledge of the Broads, I well understand their significance and importance to the people of Norfolk and Suffolk as well as their national and international importance. They are a treasure that must be protected. The Government are very much behind all those who have done so much to ensure that the Broads are maintained and developed in the most appropriate way possible.
The Government remain firmly supportive of the general aims of the Broads Authority Bill. We agree it is important that the main aim of the Bill is to improve safety on the Broads through a series of measures. I noted the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, about safety. I have an extensive list and analyses of deaths and injuries on the Broads since 1993 which I will make available in the Library to all noble Lords who have spoken.
The statistics suggest, for instance, that in 2006 there were two deaths on or from boats and two deaths not from boats. I can also list out near misses for drowning and other injuries. I do not have figures comparing the Broads with other waterways, and I suspect that it is difficult to make direct comparisons. However, in the interests of scrutiny I will dig into my department’s statistics to see whether I can make any other information available, as that would no doubt be helpful to the committee in making a judgment on whether the safety measures are proportionate. The view of my department and the Government is that the safety measures are proportionate. They include, as noble Lords have said, the licensing of hire craft, compulsory third-party insurance and improvements to how the Broads Authority operates. Introduction of the boat safety scheme has ensured that vessels are properly maintained. Our understanding is that the Bill will allow that scheme to be updated effectively. That is consistent with the practice of both the British Waterways authority and the Environment Agency.
There has been considerable interest in the constitution of the authority and its membership, whether there should be directly elected members, and the position of parish council members. Those are very important matters to which I have paid a great deal of attention. We have the House of Commons’ special report and its conclusion that the Broads Authority and local people will benefit from the provision of direct elections to the authority. As noble Lords will know, in the light of that my department has launched a consultation to look not only at introducing directly elected members to all park authorities and the Broads Authority but at introducing parish council members to the Broads Authority.
I well understand the question of accountability, a very important matter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, rightly mentioned the distinctive nature of the Broads Authority. Those matters will need to be carefully considered. I suppose that the current composition of the Broads Authority reflects both its national and local role. That is why we have the current 21 members. Nine of those are serving members of district or county councils in the Broads area, two are members of the navigation committee, and 10 are appointed by my department following an open competition, and in some cases following consultation with boating or farming and landowning organisations on the Broads.
My experience is that whenever I debate matters with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, she manages to get in the issue of local government reorganisation. I noted with interest her comments, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, on this matter. She will know that I was a member of Oxford City Council in the 1970s, and how grievously I felt about the loss of unitary status from the great county borough councils. I have never forgiven the noble Lord, Lord Walker, for doing that. I do not know if I am supposed to say this but—
My Lords, I will provide the Minister with the riposte that I provided him with when he previously raised exactly this point—and of course I shall continue to do so. The fact is that that reorganisation of local government was included in a party’s manifesto and that that party then had a mandate to carry on. Let us compare and contrast that with the current situation.
My Lords, manifesto or not, it was not right. We can all learn from examples of restructuring. It is important that we learn from those examples in taking forward these matters.
As regards how the work undertaken in Norfolk impacts on the consultation, the specific answer is that we are consulting on the principal directions. We will not take a view until the consultation is over. Clearly, that would not come in time for dealing with the provisions of the Bill. It would fall to further primary legislation if it were decided to make a change in the form of elections.
My Lords, I have inquired about this and am happy to provide further information. My understanding is that it would at least be possible for the appointments falling to my department to include parish council members. In terms of the direct elections and the appointment of parish council members within what is now the local government section—which in current legislation provides for county council and district council representatives—it is not.
If it were decided that it was a good idea in principle for parish council members to be appointed, and it was felt that they might be Secretary of State appointments, we would of course look into the detail. However, it would be better to await the outcome of the consultation. Given the statutory limit on the number of members, if parish council members were to be appointed under the Secretary of State appointments, that would restrict opportunities for some of the other interests which were represented. We will consider those matters, and I will certainly ensure that the officials taking this forward will be fully apprised of noble Lords’ views.
The right reverend Prelate, in his opening remarks—which seems quite some time ago—referred to the Marine Bill. I echo what he said: the Department for Transport is consulting on a draft Marine Navigation Bill. However, it has not been allocated parliamentary time during the current Session, and there is no conflict between the provisions in the draft Bill and those in this Bill.
On the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, and my noble friend Lady Hollis about the tension between different users of the Broads and the Broads Authority’s specific statutory responsibility for navigation purposes, there will clearly be tensions and conflicts between those different users. Any reading of waterways magazines will reveal discussion and argument about those tensions on other waterways as well. The question is how to manage them effectively. Our view is that the Broads Authority attempts and achieves the appropriate balance. It has made an effective case for the measures it takes on navigation, including safety. My noble friend Lady Hollis make it clear that safety issues are important on the broads, and we should not underestimate that.
As far as the merging of navigational and general accounts is concerned, I think I can reassure noble Lords on this important matter. The Bill removes a technical requirement for two accounts, to reduce the bureaucracy involved. I reassure noble Lords that the navigation spend must equal the navigation income. In other words, income from navigation through tolls will be spent on navigation issues. That has always been a key principle. Secondly, I reassure noble Lords that details of navigation spend and income will be published annually. My department has made it clear that the grant that we give to the Broads Authority is not to be spent on navigation. I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that there will be complete transparency in that matter.
I understand that the Broads Authority considers it inappropriate for the Bill to set standards for the navigation officer or authorised officers, but it will ensure that the relevant postholder is suitably trained and is competent to do the job. However, if it would be helpful, I will ensure that further information is sent to noble Lords about what the authority has in mind in that regard.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that. It seems rather odd that the Bill introduces many additional navigation features, but that the qualifications of the person who will enforce them have not yet been decided. That is the point. However, I am reassured, in part at least.
My Lords, I do not think that I quite said that. I think I said that it is probably unnecessary to include great detail in the Bill. Indeed, the noble Lord pointed out a risk of having lengthy legislation. The board will ensure that suitably trained and competent people will carry out the job. However, I shall try to find more information on the authority’s intentions in that regard and circulate it to noble Lords.
I come back to the authority’s competence. I understand that the Broads Authority underwent a performance assessment in 2005 akin to the comprehensive performance assessment beloved of local authorities. It assessed nine areas of the authority’s work on a four-point scale. In two areas it was assessed as strong; in five areas it was assessed as having strengths that outweighed weaknesses; and in two areas it was assessed as having weaknesses that outweighed strengths. In no area was it assessed as weak, which shows that at that time the authority was broadly doing well but that there were areas where it needed to improve. The main point is that its performance can be judged. It produces an annual report, is subject to scrutiny by the Audit Commission, and complaints can be made about it to the local government ombudsman. An overall picture emerges of a competent authority exercising difficult responsibilities appropriately.
The Broads Authority has carried out extensive consultation with a wide range of bodies, has met a range of key stakeholders on a number of occasions and has made the Bill available on its website. Criticism has been expressed of the consultation process and of what noble Lords described as side agreements, and the committee in the other House made pertinent comments in that regard. I reassure noble Lords that we expect the authority to pay due regard to those comments, and it was helpful to have them aired.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lady Hollis, I think this is a sensible approach. I commend the assiduousness of the right reverend Prelate in bringing this matter to our attention. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing his comprehensive response to the debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, which illustrated the passion which the Broads elicit. I welcome the Minister’s support and am grateful to him for responding to so many points.
The points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, raise issues not simply for the Broads Authority, but more widely in relation to representation on national parks and the Broads, which is a valued member of the national parks family. The authority recognises the need for local accountability and that can be done in various ways. I hope that in Committee that issue can be looked at carefully. There is a problem, because 93 parishes are covered by the Broads Authority, but only some 6,000 people live there.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, raised issues about the balance between conservation and navigation which, again, should be properly addressed in Committee. I wish briefly to comment on two things that he said. First, on the necessity of the Bill, it would be regrettable if safety on the Broads were not as great in relation to the boats and the people there as it is on other waterways. These are not unprecedented controls; they apply on other waterways. It is also worth saying that not everything can be done by by-laws, which cannot, for example, introduce compulsory insurance, as I understand it. There is no provision in the by-law-making regime for public consultation. There is merely a public notice after the making of a by-law. The Bill’s powers to make general directions are subject to consultation requirements, and that is important in terms of overall accountability.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, so that the Committee may do its work. I am very grateful to noble Lords for their contributions.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.
House again in Committee on Clause 5.
40: Clause 5, page 3, line 5, at end insert—
“(3A) Before designating a statement as a national policy statement for the purposes of this Act, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that (taken as a whole) the policies in the statement contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.
(3B) A statement designated under subsection (1) must contain a statement to the effect that it is the Secretary of State’s view that the requirement of subsection (3A) is satisfied.”
The right reverend Prelate said: In moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 87, 199 and 411. The Government’s response to climate change has given them an international lead with their Climate Change Bill, which places in law the requirement to achieve emission targets and budgets. The Government have brought forward three Bills which are key to our transition to a low-carbon economy: this Bill, the Energy Bill and the Climate Change Bill. Now we have a new Department for Energy and Climate Change which, I hope, will co-ordinate legislation across government departments to deliver the reductions in emissions to which all of us are committed.
By introducing these amendments, we believe that the Bill needs to be more explicit to ensure that climate change is taken into account in the planning process—in the preparation of national policy statements and decision-making by the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I commend the Minister on the requirement in the Bill for national policy statements to have an,
“objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development”.
That is essential, but I fear that it is not enough. National policy statements must surely contribute explicitly to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change. There must be a duty on the Secretaries of State to prepare policy statements with the objective of contributing towards the achievement of our 2012 and 2020 targets for emissions.
It was encouraging to hear from the Prime Minister at his party conference of the Government’s decision and determination to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050—a decision reinforced by the latest recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change. I commend the Minister on the fact that the Bill recognises the importance of climate change when dealing with planning at local level, but why does it omit this duty when dealing with planning at regional level and with national infrastructure? Why is there that inconsistency?
The Minister is confident that there is an “assumption” of climate change in the Bill, but the transition to a low-carbon economy requires a change within the very culture of planning. We must provide clear responsibilities for considering climate change within the planning process. I fear that we cannot rely on an assumption; there must be an explicit duty. I do not doubt the integrity and sincerity of the Minister’s assurance; I am concerned about future Administrations—in 2010, 2020 and 2050—also being bound by these assumptions, which is why we think that they need to be explicit and not implicit in the Bill.
The Government have shown their commitment to the demands of the Climate Change Bill and have shown international leadership in doing so. These amendments and my later amendment are designed to ensure that action is taken now to factor the urgent carbon agenda into national policy statements, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, the regional spatial strategy and all development applications. I beg to move.
It was a pleasure to add my name to the right reverend Prelate’s Amendment No. 40. I also have Amendments Nos. 52 and 177 in this group.
The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right to draw the Committee’s attention to the need for a very clear relationship between this Bill and the Climate Change Bill, which passed through this House some months ago. It postulated a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from this country by 2050, but it also established a Committee on Climate Change with, among other things, a responsibility to review that target figure and, in the event of deeper and more up-to-date knowledge coming forward, to recommend altering it if that proved necessary. I think that it was on the “Today” programme this morning—if not, it was probably yesterday—that I heard that the Committee on Climate Change was to recommend a change in that target to an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from this country by 2050.
We need to think very seriously about what that target means. My own view is quite clear. In 2050 my grandchildren will be well into their working careers and will have a few years to go before they can retire, so it is not that far away. By then, energy sources and all energy supplied will have to change. The only possible use for fossil fuels in that environment will be where there is no viable alternative. However, alternatives already exist and that target is achievable. I am sure that the Committee on Climate Change would not make that recommendation if it was not confident that that was so. If we then turn that round and think of the depth of change implied, it is clear that we need to think about it very seriously in relation to this Bill, which means that a direct cross-reference between the two Bills is absolutely vital.
My Amendment No. 177 requires a national policy statement of how this is to help to meet the targets that will be established under the Climate Change Bill. Unfortunately, we do not yet know what the climate change committee will recommend by way of interim budgets for carbon. That makes the business of technically tying the planning process into the Planning Bill quite tricky. Given the scale of the change required, there is no doubt that we need to be aware of that from the moment that this Bill is passed.
Recently it has looked as though Europe will recommend, at the next stage of the carbon emissions market, that the electricity generating industry will have to pay market price for all the carbon emission certificates that it requires. Until now the carbon certificates have been issued free. That will impose a very heavy cost burden, particularly on the coal generating industry. Of course, it will impose no burden on the nuclear generating industry because it does not emit carbon dioxide in the generating process. The economics of the generating industry will be changed by that very simple fact.
These are not just financial issues for electricity generators; they will perforce be planning issues in the consideration of how we go forward. This linkage is fundamental to the way the Bill will work in that area and it will probably indirectly affect others—transport, for instance. Will we want to ensure that rail becomes much more rapid and more efficient? I see the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, developing a twinkle in his eye at that thought. That may be so, and it will certainly make the relative merits of high-speed trains vis-à-vis aviation much more attractive. At the moment, high-speed trains are an expensive mode of travel compared to the cheap airlines. We will not be able to dictate which system will be appropriate for the future. At this stage, we have to recognise that all those pressures will be there and they will have to be taken into account as the Bill goes into action.
It is very important that we have cross-referencing in the system. It will also have to go into the Energy Bill which has gone through recently. It is very fortunate indeed that those three Bills, with such a clear necessity of linkage between them, have gone through Parliament in one Session. At the moment, that linkage is not apparent in this Bill and my two amendments seek to improve that situation. I am not sure whether we have it right, but I shall be very interested to hear what the noble Baroness says in winding up because I think she is as aware of the problem as I am. I hope that she will have some encouraging things to say. Perhaps we can work together to work out a solution to this necessity.
From these Benches we very much welcome the initiative by the right reverend Prelate. I was also very pleased to put my name to Amendment No. 87 and to Amendment No. 410 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.
We are in a dangerous time. We are clear about why from the headlines in the tabloid and financial press which are about credit crunches, the financial system and the capitalist system of the world being threatened. The big danger is that we forget the even longer agenda of climate change. As the right reverend Prelate reminded us, it was less than a year ago that the Queen's Speech included a troika of legislation, some of which was introduced in this House and some in the other place, around the area which was the focus before the fall of capitalism: climate change, which had taken many decades to achieve its current profile.
When the Climate Change Bill was debated, all sides of the House welcomed it. We all had reservations about certain aspects of it, but we welcomed it and the other Bills. They were a major plank of the Government’s legislation in this Session. This is the third of those Bills to come to your Lordships' House. In some ways, it is the least billed in terms of its effect on climate change. That is quite wrong. When the Government drafted this legislation, I think what was highest in their mind—the Minister may well put me right on this—was that its primary purpose is to reshape the planning system, particularly in the area of energy, renewable energy and nuclear energy, so that we could move more quickly to a different form of low-carbon economy. These Benches may differ on nuclear power, but we accept that it is an important aspect of the Bill.
However, it has another, equally important, aspect because it puts national policy statements at the centre of how the economy and planning in this country move forward. The types of projects that are included in those policy statements—I shall remind the Committee of some of them in a minute—will shape our economy, the way it works and how much it does or does not embed carbon in it for probably the next 100 years. The developments that are mentioned in the Bill are: generating stations; electricity lines; gas storage; pipelines; harbour facilities; railways; freight interchange; water reservoirs; and waste facilities. They are facilities that will probably have lives of 40 or 50 years on the asset books of the businesses that run them and, in reality, a number of them will probably be there 100 years hence. They are the equivalent of our Victorian infrastructure. That is why it is so important that we get it right now so that what we construct over the next five, 10 or 20 years are the right forms of infrastructure development for 2050 and beyond when we have to have a far less carbon-intensive economy.
That is why I think that the Bill does not come up to the Government’s expectations and priorities, let alone those of the whole House. That is why it is so important that these amendments put the emphasis on climate change at the core national policy statement level. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, there is a quote on sustainable development in the Bill, but if one reads it, one sees its weakness immediately. It refers to,
“the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development”.
If ever I read weasel words in legislation paying lip service to a concept but avoiding any commitment to it, I would suggest that the drafters of the Bill have done very well if that was the objective. I do not believe that that is the objective. I believe that the Government and the Prime Minister really see the climate change challenge as one that will well outlast our financial difficulties, which we have seen all too clearly during the past two months and, no doubt, will see in future months . Embedding the amendments in the Bill is vital to ensure that the infrastructure we create during the next 10 to 20 years contributes to the low-carbon economy that we need and that the Government are committed to.
I was extremely pleased to be able to put my name to Amendments Nos. 40, 87, 199 and 411, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool; they are splendid. I shall not take the time of the House by restating their validity, which the right reverend Prelate set out extremely strongly and which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has endorsed in very clear terms. I should like to add a few words of support on particular amendments that may not have been mentioned.
We ought to gird our loins for the future. For the past 10 years or so I have been banging away to include in every Bill that came through the House a clause on sustainable development where it was suitable to do so, and to ensure that every public body would have a sustainability role and that such provision was included in all new legislation where sustainable development was important. It is gratifying that that is now almost axiomatic in legislation, but, as the right reverend Prelate outlined, addressing climate change should also specifically be mentioned as a requirement in Bills where that is important and there should be a requirement on public bodies that have responsibility for delivering on the climate change objectives that the Government have, very worthily, set—they have shown an example internationally.
Although the Minister was very clear in her assurances on Second Reading that national policy statements would be properly appraised and that climate change would be part of that appraisal, in common with other noble Lords, I believe that we need to put that into the Bill. Climate change is the biggest threat that we face and, as the right reverend Prelate said, we cannot rely on assumption; there needs to be a duty.
I was especially pleased to see that the amendments talk not just about climate change mitigation but climate change adaptation. Much of the critical infrastructure whose development we are talking about speeding is highly threatened by climate change. The Chamber will have heard me in previous debates talking about the amount of critical infrastructure currently subject to the highest level of flood threat. To take another issue, our biodiversity is currently at threat from climate change. The critical infrastructure and national infrastructure proposals take account of the need for adaptation to climate change, to ensure not only that we are protected from the impact of climate change but that we do not enhance the threats of climate change to other things that we hold dear, such as our biodiversity.
I finish by talking about Amendment No. 411, on regional spatial strategies. We very much welcome the provision in the Bill to require local planning authorities to include policies to ensure that their areas contribute to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and development plans. The amendment would apply the same provision to regional spatial strategies and, of course, to the subsequent single regional strategies that will replace them. If the Government are in earnest about the sub-national review and the increasing importance of regional decision-making, democratic accountability and planning, we must ensure that those regional instruments of planning have climate change embedded at their heart.
Knowing the Minister’s commitment to ensuring that climate change is addressed, I hope that we may see these provisions in the Bill.
I am afraid that what I will say will strike a discordant note in the harmonious debate that we have listened to so far. I question whether now is the appropriate time for us to seek to reinforce the climate change message by seeking to introduce it extraneously into this Bill, which deals with quite other matters.
Our ever more reliable satellite measuring systems have recorded no increase in global temperatures for the past 10 years. I suggest that that allows us an opportunity to give priority to some more urgent threats to our way of life. I have in mind particularly the threat to the security and continuity of our energy supply—this has been mentioned by many speakers in this debate and was mentioned particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Best, the other day—of which more and more people are becoming aware. Incidentally in this context, I pay tribute to the outstanding speech made at the party conference of the party opposite by the sadly now ex-Minister responsible for energy, Mr John Hutton. He came very close to saying that energy security should now be our No. 1 priority, by implication above climate change.
Our generating capacity is plainly up against the limit of its ability to supply peak demand. Last May, for instance, the simultaneous emergency shut-down of two large power stations for unrelated reasons caused a crisis on the grid and the most serious black-outs for 20 years. More such events must be expected from our ageing fleet of power stations. In addition, as we have heard, 25 per cent or perhaps 30 per cent of our generating capacity must be withdrawn from service by 2016, partly because of its great age and partly because of stringent EU environmental requirements under the large combustible plants directive. Yet even EDF tells us that we cannot now expect new operating nuclear power stations before 2017.
How is this gap to be filled? The practical answer must be with gas and coal-fired power stations, but preferably with coal-fired because that does not increase our dependence on overseas gas suppliers. However, instead of directing us towards those options, the Government continue to pursue the will-o’-the-wisp of wind power. Not only does wind power desecrate the landscape and the seascape with gigantic turbines and lengthy new transmission lines to serve them, but the turbines are so inefficient that in this country, despite it being said to be blessed with particular advantages as far as wind is concerned, they operate at an average throughout the year of only 25 per cent of capacity. Worse still, they require a back-up of more than 90 per cent from thermal power stations in order to be certain to avoid black-outs at moments of peak demand—those moments coinciding, as they often do, with the time when no wind blows. Because of this required back-up by thermal power stations of more than 90 per cent, wind power can make virtually no contribution at all to helping us to deal with our looming energy shortages.
From the point of view of meeting our energy needs, wind farms, onshore and offshore alike, are almost entirely surplus to requirements; nor, contrary to the prevailing myth, can they be relied on to reduce our carbon footprint because account must be taken of the enormous emissions involved in their construction and installation and of the emissions of the stations required to operate as a back-up reserve.
Wind farms are up and running at all only because of the huge subsidies that developers receive—£1 billion per annum today and rising rapidly. They are paid for by the consumer and thereby contribute to fuel poverty. Incidentally, the Government have said that some 20 per cent of the cost of electricity bills is due to environmental legislation of one form or another. Wind farms are also vastly more expensive to install than other forms of power generation. They are measured in terms of their power output. Per megawatt of power delivered, an onshore wind farm is perhaps three to four times as expensive to install as a coal-fired power station and six to seven times as expensive to install as a gas-fired power station. An offshore wind farm is getting on for twice as expensive as that.
The pursuit of wind power represents one of the greatest misallocations of resources in this country’s history. I believe that if this Bill contains references to the need to take account of climate change, this is likely to be interpreted as an instruction to push wind power and so will simply encourage the pursuit of this will-o’-the-wisp. My amendment to remove Clause 173 would remove the obligation on those producing local development plans to include policies to mitigate or adapt to climate change. As that obligation is likely to be felt by local planning officers as pressure on them to give wind farm proposals planning permission, I would like to see it excluded from the Bill.
I am a great enthusiast for what the Government and other countries are doing on climate change. I thought that there was virtual unanimity—not just among politicians around the world, but also in the academic world—that climate change was happening and that we have to do something about it. Until tonight, the only exception I have heard was President Bush, but I think that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Reay, is joining his eminence as being somewhat in denial. Climate change is happening and the Government deserve great credit for trying to do something about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, persuaded me to talk about transport for a few minutes in connection with this group of amendments. One day we will probably have a carbon trading system that works and means something. It has been a very long time coming, but it is coming. The way in which many European members states have given their most polluting industries a wonderful start-up present so that money can be made from them, and the fact that air and quite a lot of other transport is omitted, means that it is very difficult to apply a cost to each type of transport related to its emissions. That is clearly where we are and where this group is designed to help.
On the first day in Committee, we talked about whether it would be necessary or desirable within these national policy statements to look at alternatives. On airports, if the third runway at Heathrow was promoted after this Bill receives Royal Assent, how would one look at alternatives to air travel? Would one look at trains or cars? Would people be told that they should not use planes because the extra carbon cost is too expensive? Or should we say that an alternative site should be in the Thames estuary, as Mr Boris Johnson is apparently suggesting? That will come in a debate on site specificity and the other issues will come in future amendments. This is a useful group of amendments, which remind us that climate change is very important.
I wish to speak in support of this group of amendments. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool for his enthusiastic pursuit of the issues they raise. In particular, I wish to speak in support of Amendment No. 410. Along with the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, it draws attention to the important inclusion of the battle on climate change in regional spatial strategies.
This will not be the only time in Committee we have a group of amendments which seeks to drive home the importance of climate change. This applies not just to projects in mitigation of climate change but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out, the equally important need to provide for adaptation to those elements which we can see are consequential on climate change.
Noble Lords have pointed to the link between this Bill, the Energy Bill, which is also going through the House, and the Climate Change Bill, which will shortly return. They are a daisy chain of interlocking legislation. I have no argument with joined-up government, but I think it is reasonable that the Bills reflect this in their wording—hence these amendments. I make no apology for batting on about this. Reference to sustainability is no substitute for the explicit writing of climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions on the face of the Bill.
I regret that I have to disagree fundamentally with my noble friend Lord Reay, for I believe that the widespread consensus that the Climate Change Bill created is a great asset for this Bill and we should exploit it. This Bill is exactly the mechanism by which the energy gap can be addressed and a low-carbon economy created. It is surely right that along with many factors to which the Committee and the Minister have drawn attention, the impact of climate change should be a primary consideration at all points in the planning process. The amendments seek to achieve that by placing climate change on the face of the Bill and I hope that they will receive the support of the Minister.
During the Committee stage of the Climate Change Bill, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach moved Amendment No. 17 to insert a new clause headed:
“Statements of compatibility with Climate Change Act”.
The Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before its Second Reading, make a statement to the effect that, in his view, the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the principal aim of this Act—a statement of compatibility.
I followed my noble friend on that occasion and I should like to read something I said, not because it is that profound but because it helps me in my argument in supporting the amendment. I said:
“Kyoto, Bali, Stern, Al Gore, the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and all political parties acknowledge that climate change is the most important issue facing us. If that is the case and we are serious about reducing our emissions, all future legislation should be compatible with this Climate Change Bill. Currently, on the front of all legislation the Minister states that in his view the Bill in question is compatible with the Human Rights Act, and on the front of the Climate Change Bill it states that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has made such a statement”.
The amendment intended to put on the front of all future Bills that they were compatible with the Climate Change Act. It was supported all around the House—indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said:
“I think it is a rather fine amendment. I wish that I had thought of it”.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, not surprisingly, congratulated our Front Bench. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that our Front Bench had probably done the House a service in bringing the amendment forward. He went on to say:
“The proposal certainly adds positively to the idea of the Bill being cross-government, up front and transparent and with genuine extra accountability”.—[Official Report, 11/12/07, cols. 210-12.]
The Climate Change Bill is still going through another place, but we could well have had on the front of this legislation a statement from the Minister saying that, in her view, its provisions are compatible with those of the Climate Change Bill. If that had been the case, moving the whole way through the veins of this Bill would have been the requirement that it should be compatible with the climate change legislation. But a statement is not on here, so I warmly support the amendment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. We ought to have something in the Bill to that effect.
I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool for leading a debate on such an important topic with a substantial amendment which has allowed Members all around the Committee to have a good go at the significance of what we are trying to do in both the Climate Change Bill and this legislation. I should say how delighted we all were when we heard about the creation of a new Department of Energy and Climate Change, and I would simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, that I cannot see how we can possibly achieve energy security without moving to a low carbon economy. We are challenged by climate change in all aspects of our national life and it is up to us to respond as rationally as possible. We have already made clear in the three Bills that so many noble Lords have referred to—not least in a very powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—that climate change and energy are to be brought together. That certainly will help to drive the transition to a low carbon economy. Having one department will focus and accelerate that process.
I shall start by addressing the two substantial amendments. Amendment No. 40 to Clause 5 would require that,
“the Secretary of State must be satisfied that (taken as a whole) the policies in [the NPS] contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”,
and that a statement should be included in the NPS saying so. Amendment No. 87 would add to the clause a duty on the Secretary of State to draw up every NPS,
“with the objective of contributing to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change”.
I will not repeat what I said at Second Reading, but I need to put on the record the fact that we think the Bill itself contains robust provisions to address this issue. It is important to open by saying that climate change is a key consideration in sustainable development generally and that our objectives are central to the consideration of future infrastructure needs. That is why we have in Clause 10 a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that NPSs are drawn up with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, and why there will be robust appraisals of sustainability which will, of course, include consideration of climate change.
We have made it clear that NPSs will integrate government objectives in terms of environmental, social and economic policy, including climate change objectives, in order to help us deliver sustainable development. Earlier today I talked about the appraisal of sustainability, which will apply to all statements to ensure that environmental, social and economic objectives are properly factored in. Again that will be bound to consider the effects of draft NPSs in relation to climate change. That should be seen alongside the policy commitment in the planning White Paper to consider climate change when NPSs are being developed. We have also outlined the key connection between NPSs and the Climate Change Bill, which will put into statute legally binding targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60 per cent by 2050 against the 1990 baseline. As arrangements for managing the carbon budgets established under that Bill are yet to be fully developed, it would be unwise for me to try to describe here precisely how they will affect Ministers responsible for developing NPSs, but let me reassure noble Lords that when we are developing them, Ministers will have to do so in the context of this new and very explicit regime. We have also made clear that NPSs will take account of all government policy relevant to decision-making and that will include climate change. We will have to have regard to the Bill’s provisions, which many of your Lordships have worked consistently to get right. We are aware that budgets will be set and that the five-year budget period has already begun. We are also aware that we will have to work across Whitehall to manage those carbon budgets once they are established.
The Climate Change Bill, the energy White Paper and the Energy Bill provide an overall framework for tackling climate change. As many noble Lords have said, it is a troika of progressive legislation to help address the great challenge of our world. The new department will enable the best possible synergy between policies which aim for energy and climate security.
Although we have a robust framework, I have heard the arguments put forward from all sides of the Committee about the virtue of placing specific duties on Ministers when drawing up NPSs. I understand the concerns and the passion with which, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised the issue. We are all agreed about the magnitude of the challenge and I sympathise with what has been said. We are trying to achieve the same thing—that is, to ensure that the framework of future infrastructure provides for sustainable development and places it at its heart. I am therefore minded to think further about these complex issues. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to give them further thought. I will take up the invitation to discuss them with noble Lords across the Chamber. The amendments are not necessarily the right approach, as we always have to watch out for unintended consequences. I will therefore need some time to give thought to the matter, which I am happy to do.
I do not have such good news in regard to the amendments to Part 5 which relate to greater clarity of information on carbon budgets in general. Amendment No. 52 would add to the list of examples of policy which may be included in a national policy statement. It seeks to include a policy of setting out what contribution the national policy statement will make towards meeting the carbon budgets established under the Climate Change Act. As the list is quite conditional it is already possible for the NPSs to do this.
I turn to the other amendments to Part 5. Amendment No. 177 would require an application for an NSIP to be accompanied by a declaration showing the contribution that the application will make towards meeting the commitments for carbon limitation made under the Climate Change Bill. Amendment No. 199 has been tabled by four distinguished Members of the Committee and would require a promoter to prepare a statement setting out the expected carbon emissions that will arise from the construction, operation and decommissioning of the proposed development, having regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State and the commission.
I find it slightly odd, in the great scheme of things, to place a duty on promoters of individual projects to set out what contribution the application will make towards meeting the commitments for carbon reduction under the Bill. Duties under the Climate Change Bill bite on Ministers and the responsibility for meeting those targets rightly falls on them. I have sympathy with what noble Lords are trying to achieve through Amendment No. 199, but any application for a large-scale project that would have a significant environmental impact would be highly likely to require an environmental impact assessment under the directive. This would look at the significant impacts of proposals and would include incorporating the impact of carbon emissions. That may well address that issue but, ultimately, the key is to ensure that national policy statements effectively set out policy in relation to the type of infrastructure in question in the way I have outlined. That is the way to secure the IPC decisions in accordance with the NPS. I do not think it is necessary or sensible to introduce the duty on promoters.
When I look at Amendments Nos. 410 and 411, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I am minded to think about that point. I shall briefly explain. The amendments would require a regional planning body, when preparing a draft revision to the RSS, to include policies designed to secure that development and use of land in the region contributes to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. It mirrors the duty proposed in Clause 173 for local planning authorities to include in their development plan documents, taken as a whole, policies to secure that development and use contribute to mitigation and adaptation, and applies that to the RSS.
The proposed duty in Clause 173 simply delivers the planning White Paper commitment to legislate to set out clearly the role of local planning authorities in tackling energy efficiency. Indeed, we expected in our planning policy statement that there would be a similar expectation of regional and spatial strategies. It does not make sense to leave out any of the levels of planning decision. We need consistency. Whether it needs to be said in legislation is a moot point, but I take the principle here. The Secretary of State approves the RSS and, in doing so, is certainly mindful of her own policies, which include climate change and carbon budgets. If noble Lords are willing, I will take that away and consider its implications in more detail.
Finally, on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, I will not address the broader argument that he used in relation to climate change. I do not think he found sympathy around the Committee, and I take issue with his analysis myself. Suffice it to say, under the circumstances, that Clause 173 sets out that local planning authorities must include in their development plan documents policies designed to secure that the development and use of land in their area contribute to mitigating and adapting to climate change. It is an important clause. It puts a duty on councillors, in preparing their local plans, to take action on climate change. Frankly, that is what local communities are asking for. The local authorities have been at the forefront of much of what is truly progressive and radical with regard to climate change over the past few years, and that is all to the good. The duty is vital, and it is important that the planning system takes account of the need. Taking the clause away would remove an important responsibility that local authorities are keen to take up. Indeed, the duty has been welcomed by stakeholders because of the positive contribution it will make. I will not go into any more detail. That is probably sufficient to address that amendment.
In short, I am pleased that we are in agreement on the question of how we address this issue to make it effective. We will take away and think about the two amendments I have identified. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate today.