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Lords Chamber

Volume 829: debated on Thursday 20 April 2023

House of Lords

Thursday 20 April 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leeds.

Leave of Absence: The Lord Speaker

My Lords, I wish to inform the House that on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 April, I will be attending the Conference of Speakers of European Union Parliaments in Prague, at which the UK has observer status. I therefore seek the leave of the House to be absent until Wednesday 26 April.

Schools: Financial Literacy


Asked by

My Lords, we work closely with the Money and Pensions Service and the Treasury to support the effective teaching of financial education in schools. The Money and Pensions Service has published financial education guidance for primary and secondary schools and we will deliver webinars for schools in due course. Our national network of 40 maths hubs also supports schools to improve their mathematics teaching, including financial content in the mathematics curriculum, based on best practice from east Asia.

I thank the Minister for her reply and I am glad to hear what His Majesty’s Government are doing. I do not know whether the Minister is aware, but the Church of England has been working on a project called Lifesavers, which came out of one of the Archbishops’ Commissions. It has so far delivered financial literacy training for 30,000 school pupils and trained 2,000 teaching staff. Given that only 5% of parents believe that their children are leaving school with adequate financial literacy, what assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of Lifesavers and other similar school projects, such as GoHenry, and how can they help these projects as we are seeking to roll them out and increase financial literacy?

The Government are very grateful to organisations such as Lifesavers for the important work they do providing very useful support to teachers and schools. According to the Money and Pensions Service, about 6.3 million children between the ages of five and 17 received some form of financial education across just over 100 programmes, so there is a great variety on offer across the country.

My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interest as chair of GambleAware. Research shows that 96% of 11 to 24 year-olds are exposed to gambling marketing and advertising, and that exposure to gambling marketing can influence their attitudes towards gambling and the likelihood of them gambling in the future. In the light of that, what specific measures are the Government taking to ensure that schoolchildren are educated about the financial as well as other risks associated with gambling?

My noble friend makes a very important point. Risks relating to gambling are part of the RSHE curriculum and there are two main aspects of this. One is supporting pupils to manage risk and make informed decisions in relation to their mental well-being and their behaviour online. The second area relates to internet safety and harms and addresses exactly my noble friend’s point: pupils are taught about the risks relating to online gambling, including how advertising and information is targeted at them, the risks of accumulating debt and how to be a discerning consumer of information online.

My Lords, I am glad that the Minister stressed the importance of mathematics in this context. Will she take the opportunity to inform the Prime Minister that it is facile to suggest improving maths in our schoolchildren without paying mathematics teachers enough money to encourage them to join and stay in the teaching workforce?

I have to say that I do not really have any intention of saying to the Prime Minister that his plans are facile. More importantly, I point the noble Lord to the pickup in recruitment of maths teachers following our interventions over the last three years.

My Lords, those children and young people who are financially literate are less likely to make poor financial decisions. Unfortunately, we see many children, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, who are not able to make those correct financial decisions. It is not just about teaching maths; it is actually about having practical opportunities and experiences. Will the Minister reflect on how we might do that in a more coherent way across all schools, particularly starting in primary schools?

The Government agree with the noble Lord that it is that combination of the fundamental knowledge in relation to mathematics and reading that support financial literacy and that can be taught in schools, having really high quality materials for schools to use. But, beyond that, they should have the experiences that the noble Lord refers to. That is why we are grateful to organisations such as Young Enterprise and the Money and Pensions Service for the work they do outside schools to complement what goes on inside.

My Lords, the Fraud Act 2006 and Digital Fraud Committee heard a lot of evidence that young people are particularly susceptible to fraud and also to being conned into becoming money laundering mules. Can the Minister assure us that the financial education will include fraud to enable young people to protect themselves from becoming either victims or unwitting criminals?

Certainly, the aspects of the curriculum that relate to how to operate safely online include fraud, which is a growing and terrible problem, as the noble Lord points out.

My Lords, the United Kingdom strategy for financial well-being sets a national goal to ensure that 2 million more children and young people across the UK receive meaningful financial education by 2030. I have not found any evidence yet that the Government have dropped this goal, although I have yet to find any evidence that the Government are on track to deliver it. But I would like the Minister to wonder how that goal can be achieved, given that research from the APPG on Financial Education for Young People suggests that two in five teachers are completely unaware of the legal requirement to teach financial education.

I understand the direction of the noble Baroness’s question. I would say that the data from the APPG report, which is extremely valuable, is none the less from a very small sample. It was from, I think, 401 teachers across the four nations. So, I think we have to be careful about extrapolating from that. The Money and Pension Service, which is responsible for delivering the additional 2 million children receiving good financial education has a wide range of programmes, including support for teacher training, communication and support for parents as well.

My Lords, I declare my financial services interests as set out in the register. Would the Minister agree that, alongside financial literacy, we should also revolutionise the curriculum with data literacy, digital literacy and data privacy literary, to have a curriculum fit for the future and fit for now? Further, would she join with me in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans? With the financial literacy initiative from the Church of England, it is clear that the bishop and his colleagues are rightly engaged in both LifeSavers and afterlife savers.

I am happy to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his and his colleagues’ contribution before, during and after life. In relation to my noble friend’s question, data and digital literacy already feature within compulsory national curriculum subjects. Data literacy is covered within mathematics, science, computing and geography and digital literacy within computing and RSHE. They also feature within the subject content of GCSEs, which are counted in the English baccalaureate.

The noble Baroness will be aware that children are particularly susceptible to advertising, especially online advertising. Could she say when the Government are going to do something about gambling advertising and the effects it has on children?

I think I already, in response to my noble friend’s question, addressed, in part, the noble Lord’s question, namely in that we already teach children about the risks relating to advertising, and in particular the advertising of online gambling.

My Lords, the Minister has rightly identified that there are a variety of good programmes out there, such as LifeSavers. But in my experience in this field and other fields, sometimes within schools there is not always the greatest awareness of what is there. In light of one of the earlier questions which talked about coherence in the system, what actions are the Government taking to ensure that schools are made aware of best practice in this field to ensure they get the best possible provision for their young people?

We are doing quite a lot to support schools in teaching financial literacy. So, as I mentioned, we will be delivering webinars for schools in the next academic year, which will help teachers deliver the most practical and engaging content. The Money and Pension Service has already published financial education guidance for schools, and there is a quality mark accreditation scheme. Also, the Oak National Academy will be producing curriculum packages in this area.

UN: Individuals Displaced by Conflict


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had at the United Nations about the case for introducing an obligation on countries intervening in conflicts to accept a moral and legal responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of individuals displaced by such conflicts.

My Lords, a range of obligations exist in international humanitarian law and international refugee law concerning the safety and well-being of civilians displaced by conflict. The UK consistently uses its diplomatic influence to uphold these protective laws and hold those who violate them to account. We work tirelessly with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant agencies to ensure protection and humanitarian assistance are provided to individuals displaced by conflict.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, but it does not go as far as I would like. It is important that any country contemplating military action in today’s world accepts full responsibility for its action. Twenty years ago, we invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein on the pretext that he was accumulating weapons of mass destruction. His removal resulted in brutal civil war between Shia and Sunni and a mass exodus of terrified refugees, genocide against the Yazidis and the emergence of ISIS and the Islamic State, leading to further mass killings and a still continuing flight of traumatised refugees to a hostile world. Then there was the debacle of Afghanistan. My request to the Minister is that the UK take a moral lead in working through the UN to make it mandatory for any country that embarks on conflict, causing an exodus of refugees, to accept full responsibility for their care and well-being, not only for humanitarian reasons but also to deter other countries from strutting their importance through the use of force in a smaller, interdependent world.

I thank the noble Lord for raising this issue and for the points that he has made, but we believe there is already a robust and comprehensive ecosystem of laws and norms to protect civilians displaced by conflict. However, he is right that the UK should use our position of leadership to highlight this issue politically and raise it on the global stage—and we do so. We regularly engage in UN discussions, including at UNGA and the UN Security Council, and underline the responsibility of all states engaged in armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and international refugee law and act in accordance with our obligations under them. The UK has been one of the most consistent and loudest voices on the subject for some time.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for—I think—being clear that His Majesty’s Government still support the refugee convention, as I think he suggested that they are promoting it on the world stage. Will he commit to promoting it with his Home Office colleagues as well?

My Lords, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is a key partner for the UK. It provides protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees and other displaced persons. We have provided the UNHCR with more than £70 million in 2022-23, including £25 million for the Ukraine response.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the most evil and brutal invasion or intervention in recent years is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine? Does he agree that there is now a major moral responsibility on Russia to make sure that grain exports are facilitated?

The noble Lord makes a key point. We have repeatedly called on Russia through the United Nations to cease targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure and allow unfettered humanitarian access to civilians impacted by this illegal invasion. The lack of compliance with international humanitarian law contributes to displacement in Ukraine. As the noble Lord suggests, pressure must be mounted on Russia to take responsibility.

My Lords, I declare a voluntary interest as the UK chair of the peacebuilding charity Search for Common Ground. The UK is and continues to be a world leader in the “do no harm” principle, but the Independent Commission for Aid Impact highlighted a concern in its December report that:

“The UK government’s poor donor practice weakened results and increased the risk of doing harm”.

Has the FCDO had an opportunity to reflect on the ICAI report, and how will it ensure that we improve our delivery of peacebuilding services to ensure that we do not undermine the “do no harm” principle?

My Lords, the FCDO is a permanently evolving organisation. We always try to refine and improve the manner in which we make substantial annual investments. Despite the cuts to spending, which the noble Lord rightly raises on a regular basis, we remain a major partner to the UN and other multilateral organisations, while spending more bilaterally to allow us to focus on the UK’s highest priorities. We are providing £108 million in core funding to UN humanitarian agencies this year, which makes us one of the top contributors of unearmarked support. That includes £33 million to the UNHCR and £6 million to the International Organization for Migration, and we will provide a far higher figure through country-specific programmes.

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the work of the United Nations General Assembly. In 2018, it affirmed the global compact on refugees, a framework for responsibility-sharing and international co-operation. Given that 83% of people who have been forcibly displaced are hosted in low and middle-income countries, can the Minister tell us how the Government will build on that compact at the Global Refugee Forum later this year?

I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the Integrated Review Refresh and the international development strategy, both of which were published recently, in which we reiterated our commitment to championing international humanitarian law. We are focused on protecting those most at risk, including from gender-based violence, and on barriers to accessing humanitarian assistance. We work closely with the UN humanitarian agencies, the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council to promote compliance with international law, and will continue to do so.

My Lords, given the atrocities being committed in Ukraine, can it be right that the presidency of the Security Council is held by the Russians?

My Lords, I hope that I may make a valid point too, on the noble Lord’s assertion a moment ago on the amounts of money given by the Government to the UNHCR. I am off to Strasbourg on Sunday and will be debating the United Kingdom’s current immigration policy in its migration committee and in plenary. Granted the levels of support that have just been mentioned, I am interested to know why the UNHCR repeatedly, at length, in detail and according to law has set itself so fiercely against present proposals in the immigration Bill.

My Lords, there can be no doubt that there is an urgent humanitarian need to stop the small boat crossings. The UK Government have introduced legislation to prevent further loss of life by disrupting the business model of people-smuggling networks. Clearly, a system that enriches those smugglers and people traffickers is one that needs improvement. That is what we are trying to do. New approaches to these kinds of issues will raise new questions for the interpretation of international law. The UK will work openly and constructively to ensure that its new approach is fully compliant with international human rights, refugee and human trafficking protections. The legislation is about ending dangerous and unnecessary routes to the UK; it is not about denying protections to those in immediate, genuine need. We will continue to work with the UNHCR, not least through the financial contribution that I mentioned earlier, to ensure that those most in need can find sanctuary in the UK.

Do the Government believe that sufficient has been done to support those who were displaced in Afghanistan when we left so ignominiously in August 2021?

My Lords, the manner in which the situation in Afghanistan was allowed to change caused appalling humanitarian problems on a scope and scale that has rightly taken the attention of this House on many occasions. I make the broader point that, as we restrict illegal migration through the legislative pathway that I was just describing, we will do more to help people at risk of war and persecution by setting up safe and legal routes, as we have done in the cases of Syria, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Ukraine. Since 2015, the UK has offered places and safety to nearly 480,000 people. The Government will commit to resettle a specific number of the most vulnerable refugees from around the world every year, working with local councils to understand their capacity for accommodation and support first and providing for the annual number to be agreed by both Houses.

Yemen and South Sudan: Humanitarian Crises


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress towards resolving the humanitarian crises in Yemen and South Sudan; and what assistance they have provided, along with international partners, to ensure that children and families in those countries have adequate access to food, water, and medical supplies.

My Lords, I begin by referencing the devastating events in Sanaa last night. I offer the sincere condolences of the whole House to the families of those who lost their lives. The sadness of the loss of life is heightened by being so close to Eid ul Fitr. Reportedly, more than 80 lives were lost and many more were injured during a stampede at a charity event designed to provide cash and food to those most in need at Eid ul Fitr. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un—to God we belong, to God we will return.

Resolving the dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen and South Sudan requires peace. The South Sudanese Government should implement their peace agreement and road map, end the violence and provide more of their own resources to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Similarly, the de facto truce in Yemen continues to hold. Long-term stability will come only with a Yemeni-led political settlement under the auspices of the UN, but the UK will continue to support millions of vulnerable people in both Yemen and South Sudan.

My Lords, I join my noble friend in expressing distress at the events in Sanaa. I am grateful to him for his words. The humanitarian aid allocated by the international community to Sudan and Yemen has been essential. It is also essential to ensure that it reaches those in need there. My noble friend will be aware that, over the last six months or so, there has been a dramatic surge in the level of attacks on humanitarian aid workers and in the theft of their aid. Can he tell the House what work Ministers have been doing with our colleagues in the international community, particularly the African Union, IGAD and the troika, to ensure that the combatants eventually give way to humanitarian workers instead of, as at the moment, killing them?

My noble friend speaks with great insight and experience, and I am grateful for her work in this area. I totally agree with my noble friend about the importance of humanitarian corridors. Only yesterday, during the repeat of the Statement on Sudan, we discussed the appalling and abhorrent situation where not only aid workers but also UN aid agencies and senior diplomats are being attacked in Sudan. That has a natural impact on South Sudan, in terms of humanitarian assistance, because of the routes through, and the situation remains extremely dire.

There has been some more positive development in Yemen, with this truce led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We have engaged with all relevant governments in the near neighbourhood, as well as the key UN agencies and all international organisations. We remain very committed to continuing our support for humanitarian assistance but also to opening up key corridors to allow aid to reach the most vulnerable.

My Lords, considering the level of the humanitarian crisis in both Yemen and Sudan, will the UK Government now consider reinstating the overseas aid budget, which was reduced some two years ago to 0.5% of GNI, and returning it to the original amount of 0.7%?

My Lords, I have often said from the Dispatch Box that we seek to return to the 0.7%, but notwithstanding the reduction in 2022-23, the UK Government have continued to provide emergency food aid for an estimated close to 200,000 people, including daily water and sanitation provision in South Sudan. We have continued our support and at the UN-led humanitarian pledging conference in March 2023 retained £88 million of aid to Yemen. We remain amongst some of the primary donors when it comes to bilateral support. The difficulty on the ground, as highlighted by my noble friend Lady Anelay, has impeded vital aid reaching the most vulnerable.

My Lords, it is important that we look at how we can intervene in many ways, and the Minister has mentioned the role of international organisations. Given that South Sudan has expressed an interest in joining the Commonwealth, has my noble friend spoken to his Commonwealth counterparts about perhaps providing assistance via the Commonwealth?

My Lords, I know of my noble friend’s interest in the Commonwealth, which is an organisation that I know well. During the PSVI conference back in November, there was some hope about the situation in South Sudan. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I met with the then Defence Minister on various issues concerning how we could strengthen South Sudan, including its place in the international community. However, things have since taken a rather regressive path—indeed, the Defence Minister herself is no longer in place. First and foremost, we need unity among the different parties in South Sudan, and then I am sure we can move forward on other considerations as well.

My Lords, as the Minister alluded to, humanitarian aid and co-ordination for South Sudan and Juba is through Khartoum and Khartoum Airport. I repeat my interest that I was in Khartoum over the Easter Recess, and in my March visit I met separately with Generals Burhan and Hemedti. Last night I had an opportunity to speak to the deputy head of the doctors’ union from Khartoum, who relayed to me the sheer horror of the medical crisis in Khartoum at the moment, and the problem of getting supplies into Khartoum Airport. He asked me to make a direct appeal, at Heads of Government level, to seek a monitorable cessation of hostilities in Khartoum to secure the airport open, which would allow medical assistance in and let co-ordinators for South Sudan and Juba to continue their much-needed work.

I assure the noble Lord we are very seized of this. The discussions around the situation in Sudan took place at the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has engaged with key partners, including the troika who have key responsibility in Sudan. We are also engaging directly at senior level, as my right honourable friend has with Foreign Ministers in the near regions, particularly countries such as the UAE, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which have obvious influence on the ground in South Sudan.

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the promising discussions and the exchange of prisoners leading to a permanent ceasefire, and the lifting of the Saudi-led blockade of Yemen, but that pathway towards peace remains incredibly shaky. The noble Lord stressed the importance of a Yemeni-led political solution. As we have a special responsibility as a Security Council penholder, can the Minister tell us what we are doing to support Special Envoy Grundberg’s mediation efforts? And can he update us on our work at the Security Council to ensure that the political process delivers the peace the people of Yemen deserve?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we all welcome what is a truce of some kind, but it is holding—that is the important thing. When I visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently, I saw quite directly the important role being played by Saudi Arabia, particularly by their ambassador Mohammed Al-Jaber who talked me through some of the reconstruction in the government-held areas. We have seen some progress through certain talks that took place directly, both with the UAE, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which have brought progress. I have engaged directly with the Foreign Minister of Yemen, as has my right honourable friend, and we are meeting with key personnel from the United Nations to ensure that the current truce can build into something much more substantial that will stand the test of the current challenges we face. It is tragic that, as I said, where aid does get through, such events can occur very quickly—we are still getting the full details, but it appears to have been an accidental firing that then caused havoc, which shows the sense of insecurity that people, including the most vulnerable people, in Yemen feel currently.

Prepayment Meters: Code of Practice


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how they will ensure that the new Ofgem Code of Practice regarding installing pre-payment meters for vulnerable and disabled customers will be enforced.

My Lords, the code of practice is a step in the right direction, with better protections for vulnerable households, increased scrutiny of supplier practices, and redress measures when prepayment meters were wrongly installed. Ofgem has now confirmed that it will put strengthened rules into energy company licences so that they can be enforced. The Government will monitor very closely the behaviour of suppliers and regulators and will not hesitate to intervene again if necessary.

My Lords, after the appalling behaviour of energy suppliers forcibly installing prepayment meters at the homes of the most vulnerable and disabled, why is Ofgem’s new voluntary scheme not compulsory? Worse, the categories “High Risk—Do not install” and “Medium Risk—Further assessment required” are confused and rely on energy supplier staff to make medical judgments. Someone awaiting a transplant is high risk but, post transplant, when they are medically still very vulnerable, they may not be. As Scope pointed out, does a customer with dementia even have the capacity to respond to chasing calls and emails? Does the Minister think that staff from energy suppliers should be making these medical decisions, and how will safe practice be enforced?

The noble Baroness asked a number of questions. First, Ofgem does not have the right to impose rules without consultation. It is an independent regulator accountable to Parliament, but this voluntary code is agreed by all suppliers; it will be put into their contracts by October. There were some nuances and details perhaps lost in the Ofgem announcement on Tuesday about the code of practice. The medium-risk group is always protected by the precautionary principle so, if there is any doubt that the consumer is financially vulnerable or likely to disconnect, they must not install a prepayment meter. The vulnerable group includes any family with children under five, the elderly over 65, those with many other serious medical conditions including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and those in temporary situations such as pregnancy and bereavement. Ofgem has worked very hard to try to include everybody in the prevention of installation of prepayment meters and will continue to do so. They have all been paused for the moment.

My Lords, I refer to my interest as honorary president of National Energy Action. Could my noble friend address two vital issues that the code of conduct does not cover? First, prepayment customers pay more per unit than any other customer, regrettably, and that has so far not been addressed by the Government. Will she urgently address it? Secondly, the standing charge is increasing, often every six months, by up to 20% a time. That is a charge over which customers have no control whatever at a time when there is a cost of living crisis.

My noble friend is not quite correct, in that we are doing a lot to tackle the higher costs that PPM users pay, and the Government are taking action to end the prepayment penalty. There are specific costs associated with prepayment meters, not least that the Post Office is often used as a conduit for payment and charges, and there are some regulatory and system costs. We have acted, we are continuing to take action, and we are introducing reforms to the energy bills to remove this premium paid. For the moment, that will be covered by the energy price guarantee and there will be permanent resolution to the issue in April 2024.

My Lords, does the Minister think that the use of the precautionary principle by those who install the prepayment meters is rarely the kind of judgment that these people are expected to make? Are they expected to make a judgment on whether somebody is 85 or 84? Does it not need to be much more clear cut as to who can have the exemption and who cannot?

The noble Lord makes a fair point but, once all the conditions of the code of practice have been met, there must be at least 10 attempts to contact the customer before a prepayment meter is installed. Then when it is installed, which is often with a bailiff, there has to be body camera footage to show that it has been done correctly. The precautionary principle is a very strong bar. If there is any doubt that the consumer is financially vulnerable, cannot pay, and is at risk of being cut off, the meter must not be installed.

My Lords, notwithstanding what the Minister said about the precautionary principle, and following my noble friend, are the Government really satisfied that the firm ban on enforced prepayment meters will not cover high-risk groups such as lone parents of a newborn babies, people with Alzheimer’s, and those aged 80 to 84? Surely they are at high risk and should not have to rely on the exercise of the discretion—the precautionary principle—of the installers.

The noble Baroness mentions some temporary conditions covered by the precautionary principle, which can include pregnancy and bereavement. But if a supplier concludes, taking into account the meter type, the aftercare support, and reasonable energy-saving assumptions, that the household will frequently or for prolonged periods self-disconnect and risk causing significant consumer harm, the supplier must consider the prepayment meter not to be safe or reasonably practical and must not install it.

My Lords, there is understandably grave concern about the effect of prepayment meters on the vulnerable and disabled. Can my noble friend clarify whether the social tariffs are still an option? Additionally, what is being done to improve the energy bill support scheme voucher take-up?

My noble friend refers to a number of policies that the Government have put in place to give financial support to consumers, and social tariffs are indeed still an option. Following the Government’s Autumn Statement commitment, we are working with consumer groups and industry to consider the best approach from April 2024 when the energy price guarantee comes to an end, and this could include social tariffs. As for the energy bill support scheme voucher take-up, we have a problem in that, as of 1 March, 97% of vouchers have been delivered since the scheme launched, but only 78% of these have been redeemed. This means that at this time 2.1 million vouchers have been issued to suppliers but not redeemed by households, so we are carrying out extensive communications, including through the Help for Households, to encourage people to redeem these vouchers. We are making announcements through local radio, charities, consumer groups and the media generally to encourage people to take up this support.

My Lords, we have all heard the harrowing stories that come from forced entry into the homes of the most vulnerable people in this country. I would like some more clarification. Surely discretion from the energy companies is not the answer, as we have heard. Why do the Government not take responsibility and continue the ban on installations until a better system is in place protecting the vulnerable. Is not failure to act on this a dereliction of duty?

The Government were very quick to take action following the Citizens Advice report in mid-January. The Secretary of State responded in late January by writing to Ofgem and all suppliers, and forced installation of PPMs was then stopped within weeks—even before the take-up by the national press campaign—so I do not agree that we have not done enough, quickly enough. The energy, markets and consumer team in the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero is responsible for this. We will monitor Ofgem very closely to make sure that all the provisions that we have put in place to protect vulnerable customers are indeed practicable and enforced.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their scheme to help people with energy costs. That was clearly an appropriate response. But in connection with these forced prepayment meter—or smart meter—installations, will the code of practice include how the meters are installed, whether they are installed in places that are accessible, and whether those who have them are trained in how to use them? It should surely be part of the code to ensure that putting in a meter which elderly and disabled people do not know how to operate does not happen. Installing it at the top of a high cupboard which, if people are elderly and cannot reach it safely but need to stand on a stepladder to press that button and restore their energy supply, should not happen either.

The noble Baroness makes some very good points. The aim of the code of practice is to set out very clearly how suppliers should protect customers in vulnerable circumstances. This will include minimum steps that suppliers need to take to conclude whether it is actually safe to install a prepayment meter, with greater prescription—as we have heard—about how vulnerability is defined, and enhanced aftercare for PPM users. Additionally, the supplier will have to carry out a site welfare visit before a PPM is installed. As I have said before, all installations of prepayment meters have been paused until suppliers can prove that they are compliant and have given redress measures to those whose prepayment meters have already been installed.

Top Secret Document Leaks

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the Commons on Tuesday 18 April.

“The unauthorised disclosure of classified US documents discovered last week was clearly a concerning development. The Defence Secretary spoke to his opposite number in the US last week and has been kept closely informed since. He is in Washington this week for a long-planned briefing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee as well as for other bilateral meetings. Clearly, while there, he has been able to discuss things further with Secretary Lloyd Austin and others. The US Department of Defence and intelligence community are currently conducting their own investigation to determine the validity of those documents and the circumstances under which they were leaked.

The UK commends the swift action taken by US law enforcement to investigate and respond to the leak, including the arrest of a suspect. As the Secretary of State, the US Department of Defence and the French Ministry of Defence have already said, not all of the information apparently leaked is accurate. Colleagues will be frustrated, I know, that I am unable to tell them which bits are inaccurate as these are sensitive intelligence matters, but it is important, nonetheless, to stress the need for caution when reporting what has apparently been leaked. Obviously, the investigation is now a matter for the US legal system.

As the refreshed integrated review set out earlier this year, the US remains the UK’s most important ally and partner. The depth of the UK’s relationship with the US remains an absolutely essential pillar of our security. We remain committed to supporting Ukraine’s armed forces in response to Russia’s illegal invasion. Ukraine has repeatedly shown us its determination and resilience in the face of Russia’s barbaric invasion, and, as we have said, we are working in lockstep with allies through forums such as the G7 and NATO, and efforts such as the UK-led international fund for Ukraine, to get Ukraine the firepower that it needs to rapidly regain its territory.”

My Lords, it is obviously of huge concern that top secret US documents were leaked, including files purporting to be on the war in Ukraine. In assessing what damage this may have done, are the Government looking into why the Wall Street Journal reported last week that the leak was first put out in January among a small group of posters on a messaging channel that trafficked in memes, jokes and racist talk? This posting in January of top secret files went, according to the Wall Street Journal, unnoticed for weeks by the outside world. If accurate, this is a very concerning matter, so can the Minister look into what did happen and whether that report is accurate? In the light of all this, can the Minister tell us what the MoD is doing to improve security, including data breaches?

I thank the noble Lord for his Question. I am not privy to the content and detail of the article to which he refers, and even if I were, I would be reluctant to comment. As the noble Lord is aware, an internal United States investigation is now taking place and the broader issue is now the subject of investigation by the United States criminal justice system and is sub judice, therefore I am unable to comment further on that. On data breaches, our MoD takes information and data-handling responsibilities very seriously. Following previous investigations, we have introduced measures to prevent breaches recurring—that is a targeted campaign of re-education and retraining. It might be helpful to the noble Lord to know that, for example, when I log on to my MoD desktop I am now immediately presented with an automatic message about keeping equipment safe, and we are now unable to send an email on MoD equipment without being prompted to add a sensitivity label. I must say that that makes me think very carefully about what I am sending and to whom I am sending it.

My Lords, I welcome the comments that the Minister made regarding some of the improvements. However, given the seriousness of the security breaches which have occurred within our MoD, what further improvements can she highlight today that have been made to combat this happening again?

I think the most uncomfortable security breach for the MoD was in 2021, when papers were left at a bus stop. Following that event, the Secretary of State sent a metaphorical dose of syrup of figs through the department. That involved re-education and retraining, with an online security test to be sat, in which Ministers had to participate—I shall not share the results with the Chamber but it was a very pertinent wake-up call—and random bag searches were introduced in the main building for people accessing and leaving the department. I would also say to my noble friend that a risk assessment/risk evaluation exercise, introduced before the security leak in the United States of America, is currently ongoing, and that will be an important contributor to how we can improve further.

My Lords, in the other place Dan Jarvis asked the Minister whether he was able to give assurances that data on our Armed Forces held by private sector contractors was fully secured. The Minister said that he assumed so but would go away, find out and write to Mr Jarvis. Can the Minister inform this House whether there is yet an answer to the question? If such data is not securely held, what work will the MoD be doing to ensure that security is improved?

I do not have the response which my right honourable colleague promised in the other place, but I undertake to ensure that a copy is forwarded to the noble Baroness whatever that response is. Our private contractors operate under a very strict regime, not just in terms of vetting the people they have who have access to sensitive material, but also, in terms of undertakings, those individuals must comply with the Official Secrets Act and with the rules, protocols and all the security practices which we expect. There have been instances where these have been breached and prosecutions have ensued. Therefore measures are in place, but I will make the further detail promised by my right honourable friend in the other place available to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, the leaks reveal the US assessment that there will be an imminent vulnerability of Ukraine to Russian aircraft. What lessons have we learned in terms of early provision of aircraft and countermeasures to Ukraine?

As I indicated yesterday in responding to a question about Ukraine, we are working in lockstep with our allies through forums such as the G7 and NATO and efforts such as the UK-led International Fund for Ukraine to get Ukraine the firepower it needs to rapidly regain its territory. We are in daily contact. Tomorrow the Secretary of State for Defence will be at Ramstein, the airbase in Germany, at a meeting hosted by the United States. We are also anticipating the NATO summit in Vilnius in July, and we have constant bilateral engagement with our other partners. Everything is being done to ensure that we can respond as meaningfully as possible to what Ukraine thinks it needs.

Media reports suggest that the individual originally responsible is an American of considerable youth who still had access to a great number of very sensitive files. Can the Minister confirm that that indeed is the case and further confirm, as regards the Ministry of Defence and our coverage, that it is not as exposed as the American one seems to have been?

I can confirm to the noble and gallant Lord that the American criminal justice system has identified an individual, who I understand has been arrested and I presume is detained. On sharing information within our own MoD, we are very careful about where that information is, where it is stored and to whom it is transmitted. As I said in response to an earlier question, very detailed procedures are now in place to ensure that the correct balance is struck. We have to be careful not to obstruct this vital sharing of information, which may be incredibly important to inform discussion and decisions, while ensuring that we balance that with the need to store and manage the transmission of material responsibly and securely.

My Lords, given the increased threat from Russia, including recently in the Moray Firth area, which the Minister may wish to comment on, as well as from China, Five Eyes co-operation is even more important. Can the Minister give us an assurance that this unfortunate incident in the United States will not undermine and reduce our Five Eyes co-operation?

I thank the noble Lord. On the Moray Firth, we have been careful to ensure that our surveillance of maritime activity by Russia is extensive, and we take the security and resilience of our national infrastructure very seriously. As the noble Lord will be aware, we have increased Royal Navy presence patrols and have invested £65 million in the first of our two multi-role ocean surveillance ships. On the relationships with our important allies such as Five Eyes, other NATO partners or other security organisations, going back to the question from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, we are absolutely clear that our ability to protect our own sovereign states and to act in concert to protect global security depend on acquiring and sharing sensitive information. We all understand the importance of that, but equally we all understand the obligations which attach to it, and the balance to which I refer is one of which all our allies and partners are cognisant.

My Lords, further to the question from the noble and gallant Lord, my former constituent, the point he made goes to the absolute core of this crisis. The perpetrator, Jack Teixeira, was 21 years old, an airman in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, hardly a key unit at the very heart of the fight against terrorism and the war in Ukraine. He had access to top secret files and substantial Five Eyes intelligence but was a very junior official. Can the Minister make it clear that our Government will do all they can to impress upon the United States and Five Eyes partners that allowing this type of security intelligence to be dealt with by someone so junior is incredibly concerning?

I do not think anybody would disagree with my noble friend’s assessment. As he will be aware, the Secretary of State for Defence was scheduled to be in Washington—that had been prearranged—but an opportunity will be taken to speak directly about this issue. As always with cases like this, there is something which every state can learn, whether it is a state directly involved or a partner or ally of that state. The gravity of what has happened is completely understood, and certainly we are very sensitive to that within our own MoD. I have indicated some of the measures that have been taken and, following the American incident, our Permanent Secretary immediately instigated action to check that the highest standards were being observed.

Chinese Police Stations in the UK


The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 19 April.

“The latest reporting in the Times on the so-called overseas police stations is of course of great concern. As my right honourable friend the Minister for Security said in his previous Statement on the matter in November last year, investigations by the law enforcement community are ongoing, which limits what I can say in the House about a live investigation into a sensitive matter. As Members will appreciate, I do not want to say anything that would jeopardise any operational investigations or indeed any potential future prosecutions.

I will, however, take this opportunity to reassure the House of the Government’s resolve to protect every community in this country from transnational repression. Protecting the people of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance. Any attempt to coerce, intimidate or illegally repatriate any individual will not be tolerated. That egregious activity is part of a wider train of authoritarian Governments—not just China, but others—perpetrating transnational repression in an effort to silence their critics overseas, undermine democracy and the rule of law, and further their own narrow geopolitical interests.

Through our police forces and the intelligence agencies that work with them, we take a proactive approach to protecting individuals and communities from threats. Where we identify individuals who may be at heightened risk, we are front-footed in deploying security measures and guidance where necessary.

The upcoming National Security Bill will strengthen our powers to deal with transnational repression and with agents of foreign states more generally. Coercion, harassment or intimidation linked to a foreign power will be criminalised under the new foreign interference offence in that Bill. Existing criminal offences against a person, such as assault, will in future command higher sentences where they are undertaken at the behest of a foreign power through the state threats aggravating factor in that Bill.

The National Security Bill will also introduce a new foreign influence registration scheme, and we will not hesitate to use those new powers to bear down on the activities of foreign entities of concern. The Bill will return to this House in early May and I call on all honourable Members to support it when it does.

It is clear, however, that we can and must do more. That is why the Prime Minister asked my right honourable friend the Minister for Security to lead a new defending democracy taskforce, a key priority of which is to enhance our response to transnational repression. That work is ongoing and he will provide an update to the House in due course. It builds on the work done by his ministerial predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for East Hampshire, Damian Hinds, who I see is in his place. I am clear, as are the rest of the Government, that the repression of communities in the UK will not be tolerated and must be stopped.”

My Lords, yesterday in the Times newspaper there was a report into a Chinese businessman with links to an alleged Chinese secret police station in Croydon. This report raises serious questions about national security. This businessman, who has attended Chinese Communist Party political conferences, has also attended organised Conservative Party fundraising dinners and other events involving former Conservative Prime Ministers. Although we have raised this issue here before, after police stations were reportedly uncovered in Hendon, Glasgow and Croydon, we have received no update. Meanwhile, operations in New York and the Netherlands have taken action against Chinese police operations, and the Canadian and German Governments have expressed concern about operations in their countries.

Here, we have to contend with the additional dimension that one individual who has been linked to an operation here has links with the Conservative Party and has met Ministers. We know that the director-general of MI5 has warned that Chinese authorities are attempting to exert influence over our political system. Can the Minister tell us the extent of the contact this individual has had with Ministers? What action are the Government taking to look into this role within the Conservative Party and the involvement he has had with the Government? Have any other individuals connected with these operations been identified, and are their similar concerns about them seeking to influence British politics?

My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s concern about this threat to our democracy, but as the Security Minister said in a previous Statement on this matter in November last year, investigations are still ongoing and it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further on operational matters, as to do so could obviously jeopardise future prosecutions.

However, I take this opportunity to reassure the House of the Government’s resolve to protect every community in this country from transnational repression. As regards the internal party aspects of this, it is my understanding—and if I am wrong, I will obviously come back to correct myself—that this individual was prominent in a particular Chinese organisation within the Cities of London and Westminster. Beyond that, I do not think he had any involvement or contact with Ministers, and, as all noble Lords around the House know, prominent politicians are featured in photographs with very many people, most of whom they will not know.

My Lords, I recognise that it is difficult to comment on this immediate case. Therefore, I raise some slightly wider questions. China is not the only authoritarian state which attempts to catch up with and influence its nationals here. We all recall the occasion when a member of the royal family of one of the Gulf states was taken off the streets in Cambridge and taken back to the Gulf states. Can the Minister assure us that other states and their behaviour in Britain—including some with whom we are relatively closely allied, such as the Gulf states—are also in scope and that the Government are concerned about that?

Secondly, universities have a particularly sensitive role here—I speak as a former academic. Last year, one vice-chancellor told me that his biggest single problem in maintaining free speech in his university was keeping the peace between his Hong Kong students and his Chinese mainland students. I put that down as a marker for further discussion. The Defending Democracy Taskforce was mentioned several times in discussion in the other place yesterday. I tried to find out exactly what it is covering, how far it is intended to have some cross-party representation and what its plans are. It is very difficult to find out whether it really exists, how often it meets, what it is doing and what its strategy is. At a later stage, could the Minister’s department communicate to some of us what the Defending Democracy Taskforce’s intentions are?

The noble Lord raises a couple of very good points. Obviously, any attempt to coerce, intimidate or illegally repatriate any individual will not be tolerated; it does not matter where they are from. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill and the National Security Bill both contain provisions to ensure that universities have the tools they need to deal with interference and threats to academic freedom. The noble Lord is quite right to draw the House’s attention to the Defending Democracy Taskforce, which my right honourable friend the Security Minister introduced in the other House in November last year. He has been asked for updates; I have not seen him since those were asked for, but I will make sure that the representations from this House, as well as the other place, are understood. I can also commit that higher education falls within the remit and scope of the Defending Democracy Taskforce, so there will be more to be said on that matter. Noble Lords will also appreciate that there are a number of other areas, including, as I said, the National Security Bill, where we will tighten up our ability to respond to some of these issues.

Does my noble friend accept that in a democracy, it is very important that Ministers and Members of Parliament are available to the public as a whole, and it would be a great sadness if this kind of allegation, proven or unproven, becomes a way to ensure that people are unable to reach to the heart of government, as they ought? I hope the Government will continue to state that those who are malefactors should of course be prosecuted with great urgency; but it is very important that those who merely wish to get people in government to understand what is happening in the world—frankly, it is not always obvious that the Government know that—should have access.

I agree with my noble friend. As I said earlier, it is very difficult for any prominent politician of any party, within or outside government, to know precisely who is appearing in a selfie with them. We should be very cognisant of that fact. I also agree that if subsequent bad behaviour, illegal behaviour, is discovered, whatever it may be, the full force of the law should be brought to bear.

My Lords, I concede that the investigation is at an early stage, but is it the Government’s working assumption that this phenomenon is not confined to Croydon and there are other such so-called police stations around the country—looking particularly, I would guess, at Chinese students in the UK?

My Lords, again, it is difficult for me to comment on ongoing matters, but the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench mentioned a couple of other police stations that have been aired in the public domain in the past, so yes, it is fair to say that there is more than just one.

My Lords the advance of autocracy in China since 2012 has been vertiginous. We have seen the creation of a panopticon state where face recognition and location technology are fused to follow and monitor every citizen, and where big online platforms such as Alibaba, Weibo and Tencent both proselytise for the regime and spy on its behalf. Although we often talk of it as Orwellian, I think a better metaphor would come from Huxley, in the sense that even when Chinese students in western universities are put in a place where they do not have censors and firewalls to worry about, they still tend not to look at “dangerous” websites. Will my noble friend confirm that one thing we can do to promote democracy in China is to support the China where democracy and freedom have advanced, especially since the 1990s, namely, Taiwan: a China on the doorstep of red China which shares its language and culture but rejects its totalitarianism?

My noble friend asks a very good question. The UK’s long-standing policy on Taiwan has not changed: we have no diplomatic relations with Taiwan but a strong unofficial relationship which is based, as my noble friend said, on deep and growing ties in a wide range of areas and is certainly underpinned by shared democratic values.

My Lords, can the Minister give more details about the situation in Glasgow? Scottish universities are taking in students from China to raise income because there are no fees from Scottish students, and some strange people from China may be getting in under the guise of being students. The Scottish Government have a very strange contract with a Chinese company that is causing grave concern among the public in Scotland. The Scottish Government have been trying to take a greater role in foreign affairs, without the kind of support that the Home Office and Foreign Office have from our intelligence agencies. Can the Minister give an undertaking that the UK Government will talk to the appropriate Scottish Ministers about this issue and make sure that they are dealing with it efficiently and safely?

The noble Lord will appreciate, as I said before, that I am unable to comment on ongoing operational matters and investigations. I listened carefully to what he said, and rather than make that commitment regarding the devolved Administration myself, I will certainly ensure that my noble friend Lord Offord is aware of his concerns and suggest that he looks into them.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Committee (10th Day)

Relevant documents: 24th and 31st Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee

Amendment 240

Moved by

240: After Clause 93, insert the following new Clause—

“Cycling, walking and rights of way plans: incorporation in development plans(1) A local planning authority must ensure that the development plan incorporates, so far as relevant to the use or development of land in the local planning authority’s area, the policies and proposals set out in— (a) any local cycling and walking infrastructure plan or plans prepared by a local transport authority;(b) any rights of way improvement plan.(2) In dealing with an application for planning permission or permission in principle the local planning authority shall also have regard to any policies or proposals contained within a local cycling and walking infrastructure plan or plans and any rights of way improvement plan which have not been included as part of the development plan, so far as is material to the application.(3) In this section—(a) “local planning authority” has the same meaning as in section 15LF of PCPA 2004;(b) “local transport authority” has the same meaning as in section 108 of the Transport Act 2000;(c) a “rights of way improvement plan” is a plan published by a local highway authority under section 60 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would require development plans to incorporate policies and proposals for cycling and walking infrastructure plans and rights of way improvement plans. Local planning authorities would be required to have regard to any such policies and proposals where they have not been incorporated in a development plan.

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to start this day in Committee by moving Amendment 240. I shall also speak to the other amendments in this grouping.

I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who apologises for not being here today. This amendment has the support of the Bicycle Association, Bikeability Trust, British Cycling, Cycling UK, Living Streets, Ramblers and Sustrans. I think you can say that that support basically includes the Better Planning Coalition. Its purpose is to ensure that the various walking and cycling network plans and rights of way drawn up by county councils or combined authorities are incorporated into local planning authorities’ development plans and are reflected in their planning decisions. This would help to safeguard land for new walking and cycling routes or rights of way, including disused railway lines, improve existing routes, and ensure that developments connected with existing or new walking, wheeling or cycling networks with secure development contributions are introduced. This came to a head within the last six months, when National Highways was caught filling in disused railway bridges with concrete to prevent them from being used in the future as footpaths or cycleways, for example. I am grateful that there has been a pause put on that. I hope that it stays a pause, because it was a very stupid decision with no benefit whatever.

This amendment addresses the problems of local planning authorities that sometimes, wittingly or unwittingly, frustrate a higher tier authority’s aspirations for walking, cycling and rights of way by not recording these network aspirations in their development plans. That means that they are not safeguarding the land for these networks or to connect new developments with existing networks for secure developer contributions to implement or upgrade specific routes. There is much discussion going on about all these issues, but it is very important that this covers what is happening now and what might happen in future. The biggest problem is when we have two-tier authorities—county councils or combined authorities, and district councils. In one case, one part of a unitary authority commissioned Sustrans to assesses the feasibility of reopening a disused railway line as a walking and cycling route, while another part of the same authority gave permission for a housing development which blocked the route. There is no point in doing this; it wastes a lot of time and seriously affects the people who want to develop cycling or walking routes.

Local transport authorities have a duty to prepare a statutory local transport plan. They are also responsible for drawing up one or more non-statutory local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. That is all a bit of a mouthful, but really important. Usually it is the same body, but for each one it is required to draw up a statutory rights-of-way improvement plan for its area. We probably all have examples in our own areas of rights of way not being taken very seriously—and we will talk about that later—but all these things need co-ordination.

The Government have argued that our concerns about this lack of co-ordination would best be addressed through the NPPFs, rather than through legislation. My worry is that the current NPPFs, which are still in proposed revisions, mention these local cycling, walking and infrastructure plans only in passing, leaving out the right-of-way plans altogether. This results in developments being granted permission without taking into account the need for walking and cycling or improving these links. I call it active travel—it is a bit shorter. I am sure that the Minister will take this amendment seriously, and I hope that she gives me a nice positive response to it and says that perhaps we can have further discussions and see what happens.

My Amendment 470, on electric vehicle charging, is quite a short amendment. It requires a change to the Electricity Act, for the Government to facilitate or accelerate the rollout of electric vehicle charging points for domestic and commercial customers. We have discussed this in your Lordship’s House quite a few times. A few statistics really worry me, frankly. First, the Government have a target of 300,000 public charging points by 2030, and there is a long way to go before we get there. Interestingly, a Written Answer from the Minister on 29 March to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, stated that the number of installations were 8,600 public charging, 71,000 electric vehicle home charge schemes, and very few electric charge point sockets and grants, while workplace had 15,000.

Another telling Written Answer, to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on 21 March, stated that

“the majority (around 75%) of electric car charging happens at home, as it is often cheaper and more convenient for drivers.”

I am sure that the Minister is right, but the problem is: how many people have home charging? I expect many noble Lords here have home charging, if they want it, but there are an awful lot of people in this country who park on the road and, if they want to charge their cars, they will have to get it off a lamppost.

Another Written Answer from the Minister said that there was no national data on how many lamppost chargers were available. If we do not know how many are available, we do not know who wants them, and we do not know where the public ones are, where do you charge your heavy goods vehicle or coach? Who will fund them? Most important of all, what about the regulation of chargers? There is a lot for the Government to do to meet their target of 300,000 charging points by 2030.

Finally, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the same subject. I am sure that she will tell us a great deal more of it. I beg to move.

My Lords, in this debate on transport, it is a pleasure to follow in the slipstream of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and add some footnotes to his speech on Amendment 240.

Before I turn to the amendment, I will say a word about the target of 300,000 EV chargers. Some chargers are fast chargers and some are slow chargers. At some point, we need to define more accurately the division of those 300,000. If they are all slow chargers, that will not do the trick. If they are fast chargers, we may not need quite so many. So a bit of granularity on that target at some point would be welcome.

Researching for this debate, I came across a government document stating that

“continuing growth in road transport and consequential environmental impacts present a major challenge to the objective of sustainable development. Traffic growth on the scale projected could threaten our ability to meet objectives for greenhouse gas emissions … and for the protection of landscapes and habitats”.

I should have recognised it instantly, as it was in a document that I published nearly 30 years ago when I was Planning Minister. It was PPG13, which offered advice to local authorities on integrating land-use planning and transport. Its object was to reduce reliance on the car by promoting alternative means of travel and improving the quality of life.

I note in passing that I referred to the then Government’s policy of increasing the real level of fuel duty by an average of at least 5% a year—a policy now very much in the rear-view mirror—and also my commitment to introducing electronic tolling on motorways. Back in 1993, I was clearly a little bit ahead of the game.

Amendment 240 could almost have been lifted from PPG13. It promoted development within urban areas at locations highly accessible by means other than the car, and it supported policies to improve choice for people to walk, cycle or catch public transport, rather than drive between homes and facilities that they need to visit regularly.

I also came across an article in the Independent from 10 July 1995, when I became Transport Secretary and continued my campaign. In an open letter to me, Christian Wolmar wrote:

“When your appointment as Transport Secretary was announced, the whoops of joy from cycling campaigners could be heard across the nation. The notion of having a Transport Secretary who is not only an active member of Friends of the Earth but also an active cyclist and tandem rider was beyond their wildest dreams”.

So, the Minister will not be surprised that, as middle age taps me on the shoulder, my commitment to environmental means of transport is undimmed.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, set out the case for the amendment, which I believe is even stronger than it was in the 1990s. I will not repeat it. I understand from the Government’s response to a similar amendment in another place that, instead of an amendment to primary legislation, the objectives to the amendment should be incorporated in a revised NPPF, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just said. My response is that I tried that and it did not work. We need to be more assertive.

Paragraph 1.10 of PPG13 said:

“If land-use policies permit continued dispersal of development and a high reliance on the car, other policies to reduce the environmental impact of transport may be less effective or come at a higher cost”.

That is exactly what has been happening, as the Government’s own publication, Gear Change: A Bold Vision for Cycling and Walking, published in 2020, recognised. Despite the exhortation in that PPG and, I suspect, many other PPGs since, we have not seen the transformation in planning for transport that is required. We continue to build housing with little or no public transport provision, or where it is impractical to get to school, the shops or work without jumping into a car. We must up our game and cease relying on guidance.

The amendment also addresses the problem touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that has arisen in two-tier authorities, where, typically, the county council is the transport authority but the district council is the planning authority: if you do not have the commitment to walking or cycling networks recorded in the district plan, this can then frustrate the county’s ambition to promote cycling and walking networks—clearly an undesirable outcome.

The challenge to my noble friend, who I am delighted to see is replying to this debate, is to convince me that we should continue to rely on guidance, as I suspect my officials advised me to do in 1993, despite the evidence that it has not brought about the transformation that I aspire to. I wish her every success.

My Lords, I am pleased to speak to a number of amendments in this group, to which my name is attached. This is, of course, a group of transport-related amendments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Young, I am very pleased to see that we have the Transport Minister here to respond in detail to us, because all the warm words on levelling up are meaningless without decisive action to improve transport infrastructure and services. Poor transport facilities almost exactly mirror the overall picture of the social divide in our country: poorer areas have poor public transport and poor transport infrastructure generally.

There is a reason why London and the south-east are the richest parts of the UK: they have the transport links to service the areas well, and one reinforces the other. I say that while recognising of course at the same time that there is poverty and disadvantage amongst the most privileged.

I start with Amendment 240, to which I have added my name. The noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Young, have spoken in some detail, and with greater information than is necessary for me to repeat here today. But I want to endorse the fact that this has to be about broadening access to the activities of cycling and walking and safeguarding our rights of way: for many decades, we have been accustomed to the gradual erosion of the practicality of safe walking and cycling, and the erosion of our rights of way on footpaths. The car has been king for a very long time. If we are going to truly improve the quality of our lives and the lives of the generations to come, we need a much broader and more informed approach. In my own local area, I notice the cycleways that disappear into nothing at key junctions and so on. It is a skilled business to provide really good cycling and walking facilities.

Turning to Amendment 468, the intention here is to prioritise the requirements for disability access at rail stations. Progress on this has been painfully slow—way too slow. I use this opportunity to praise the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lady Brinton, who raise these issues time and again in the media and in this House. We live in an ageing society, and we should be much more encouraging to those people who are less mobile but who want to travel by rail or bus. So this amendment goes way beyond the simple issues of wheelchair access, access for those with sight impairment and so on. It is about access for people who are less agile.

However, treatment is far from being on an equal basis for those people in wheelchairs. As a regular rail traveller myself, I watch this week after week. Despite huge efforts by the staff, there is still so much further to go. We have to ensure that people do not have to book way ahead in order to be able to make a simple journey.

I ask a very specific question: why are new facilities still being built which are not fully and easily accessible for people who cannot run up a flight of stairs? There was recently publicity about Network Rail bridges being built which were not fully accessible.

An example I have used before is Pokesdown station in Dorset, which is quite a busy station. It is in the Bournemouth conurbation. When the contract was given to the then new train operating company, which I think must be about five years ago, I asked specifically about plans for a passenger lift at that station because it has an extremely long and steep flight of stairs to both platforms. I was told then that the passenger lift was imminent. I made the point that it was unstaffed for much of the day while trains were coming and going. It remains “imminent”—or possibly not imminent—and, of course, it remains inaccessible for anyone less than fully agile. This is even more frustrating because there is an apparently disused goods lift. There is a shaft and there is potential for a lift already built. There must be dozens of examples like that throughout the country.

Finally, I turn to Amendments 470 and 486, which look at the future of electric vehicles. I am very concerned that the charging infrastructure is already developing with inbuilt inequality. The noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Young, raised very important issues. I will not repeat the details and statistics given to us, but I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Young, that, as well as standard rate and fast chargers, there are also rapid chargers. He has pinpointed a key issue: the level of awareness among all of us about the difference in the provision from one area to another.

Rapid is faster than far, but that would not be obvious to the average local public sector employee whose job it is to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure for EVs.

My Amendment 486 requires the Government to update us regularly on their strategy to improve the charging network. It particularly refers to the discrepancies across the country. The discussion often relates to the pure numbers of charge points, but just as important are two different factors. The first is the adequacy of the numbers available in public places. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has made that point. Currently, EV ownership is concentrated among more affluent people—those with drives and who can therefore have chargers attached to their homes. We cannot have an EV revolution that is only for the rich. People who live in terraced houses and in flats must also be able to own EVs. As the revolution plays out and a second-hand market develops for electric vehicles, this becomes an ever more pertinent point. The second factor is that the Government have emphasised time and again that they believe that the market will adequately take care of the provision of charge points, but the figures do not bear that out. London and the south-east have a far more generous ratio of electric vehicles to public charge points than any other part of the UK.

My conclusions are that particular problems need to be addressed. The first is the disparity in cost between home charging and public charge points. If you charge at home, you pay 5% VAT; if you charge in a public car park, a public place or from a lamppost, you pay 20% VAT. That reinforces the unfairness. I urge the Government to deal with the issue soon as otherwise it will hamper any of their best intentions on this issue.

The second conclusion is that the Government must work much harder to increase support and funding in areas that have large gaps in their electric vehicle infrastructure. They are often towns in poorer areas and, of course, almost every rural area. Local authorities have a key role in this but often need greater advice because officials do not know the difference between fast and rapid and so on. They need not just money but support and advice to help them, otherwise EVs will remain vehicles for rich areas and poorer areas will remain subject to suffering from poor air quality.

My final point on this is that the Government simply must address the delays in national grid connection. They are hampering the whole thing which is totally inadequate to service the revolution that needs to take place.

In relation to Amendment 48 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I live in Wales. This week, 20 miles per hour became the default speed limit throughout the country. I live in Cardiff, where it has been the default speed limit for some time, and we have all—more or less—got used to it. The traffic flows more smoothly.

My Lords, I guess I should rise at this point to follow with pleasure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who made a point that I was going to make. I note that in Scotland, they are going for 2025. This is a case where England urgently needs to catch up. I will primarily speak to Amendment 482. It is very simple:

“for “30” substitute “20”.

This is a “20 is plenty” amendment. I am going chiefly to speak to that, but I note that this is a very neat and fit group of amendments.

We express Green support for Amendment 240. We obviously need to get active transport joined up to make preparation to make sure that it happens. Also, we support Amendment 486 from the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Randerson, on disability access in railway stations. Of course, we broadly agree with electric vehicle charging points. However, on the interaction between these two issues, we have to make sure that where vehicle charging points are installed on roads, they do not make the pavements less accessible, particularly for people with disabilities, with strollers and other issues. The space should be taken from the road and cars and not from pedestrians.

Returning to my Amendment 482, this would make the default general speed limit for restricted roads 20 miles per hour. Among the many organisations recommending this is TRL, formerly the Government’s Transport Research Laboratory. Going from the local to the international, there was of course the Stockholm Declaration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2020, which recommends 20 miles per hour speed limits where people walk, live and play. That is the global standard that the world is heading towards, and we really need to catch up on this. I can see much nodding around your Lordships’ House. I am sure many noble Lords know that pedestrians are seven times more likely to die if they are hit by a vehicle travelling at 30 miles per hour compared with 20 miles per hour. If they are aged 60 or over, they are 10 times more likely to die when hit by a vehicle at 30 rather than 20.

Noble Lords might say this is the levelling-up Bill rather than general provision, but to draw on just one of many reports that reflect on this issue, Fair Society, Healthy Lives: the Marmot Review says that targeting 20 miles per hour zones

“in deprived residential areas would … lead to reductions in health inequalities”.

However, there is, of course a problem. The Marmot report was looking within the current legal framework for travel, but it is extremely expensive to bring in local areas of 20 miles per hour speed limits. There needs to be local signage and individual traffic regulation orders, and then presumably, if there is to be some hope of compliance, there needs to be an education campaign. All of those things cost money, and councils in some of the poorest areas of the country will find it most difficult to find those funds.

If we think about some of the other impacts, as well as road safety, 20 miles per hour speed limits where people live, work and shop reduce air pollution and noise pollution. These are things that particularly tend to be problems in the most deprived areas. The wonderful 20’s Plenty for Us campaign that has been working on this for so long, and increasingly effectively, notes that there is a 30% reduction in fuel use with “20’s plenty”, so it saves people money as well—something of particular interest to the most deprived areas of the country.

This is a very simple measure, by which we could catch up with other nations on these islands and really make an improvement to people’s lives, health and well-being. I have focused on the practical health impacts, but the reason this group of amendments fits together so well is that, if you want to encourage walking and cycling, then ensuring that the vehicles on the road travel more slowly is a great way to open up the entire road network to cyclists and walkers. Of course, it could also build communities: the reduction in noise pollution gives neighbours more of a chance to chat over the garden fence and build those communities that we desperately need.

My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment 470 in this group, and it is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on this. I would like to say a few words about the question of footpath access that he addressed initially. It seems to me—and it was amply spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—that this is part of the essential infrastructure that enables people to have what used to be, and I hope still is, known as multi-modal travel opportunities. In other words, one has at least some sort of menu of options, and one is not just obliged to be in a motor vehicle. This goes to the heart of what we do about making sure that developments are both related to existing settlements, where these facilities are available, and do not become detached from that unless there is some particular reason—and then only when this infrastructure is put in. So I am very much in favour of that.

On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about access for people with mobility difficulties, yes, I know all about that. My local railway station is associated with a very large school complex, and there is not much in the way of housing there, although there is a retirement development, surprisingly—otherwise, you might say it was in the middle of nowhere. Those who want to get to London who are not good at navigating stairs have to get on the coast-bound train—in other words, the train going in the opposite direction—and change at the next station down, where there is at-grade access. They must come off on the coast-bound platform, wheel themselves if there are in a wheelchair, or cross using a walking frame or whatever else, over the level crossing when the train has stopped straddling the level crossing—which is what the train often does because the platform is too short—and then they go round to the other platform. There is of course a bridge, but of course that is another lot of steps. Thankfully, the train schedule is so organised that people do not have to wait two trains hence in order to catch the one back up to London, which is where they first wanted to get to. So I am familiar with this.

On the issue of railways, there has been a great move in my part of West Sussex to try to close off footpaths that cross over railways at what are called unguarded crossing points, because there have been one of two very serious and tragic accidents involving those. Of course, it is a bit difficult, because where do you reroute the path to in order to make it convenient? At one stage, when I was chairman of the Rights of Way Review Committee—a collective of non-governmental and voluntary organisations of one sort or another—I rather blotted my copybook because I tried to get across the message that we must not be fossilised in our views about the rights of way system; we have to make a transition towards something that is fit for purpose today. I ran into issues with people who thought that legacy rights of way must be retained at all costs. I think they were disturbed to find that I was not entirely at one with them on that, in the sense that I felt that, if some that were not that important could be given up, there would be a better chance of getting ones that were needed and accorded with modern practice. When we are talking about users of these things, let us not forget that it is not just cyclists and walkers but people with children in buggies who need to get to and fro—in particular on what I would call the fringes of development areas. It is vital that there is access to open countryside, and if we do not have this network then it does not work.

However, I digress, because the amendment to which I added my name is to do with charging points. I am not an expert on this and I do not have an electric vehicle, but I have tenants who, every now and again, ask about electric vehicles. One of the chief problems is that a fast charger—I do not know if it is “fast” or “rapid”, but it is one of them at any rate—requires a three-phase electricity feed. I do not have that and, indeed, I am at the limit of what can be drawn off a pole transformer that is on the property. When I asked about bringing three-phase in, the chap from UK Power Networks or whatever it was said he did not even want to tell me what it would cost. He said it was absolutely eyewatering and he did not tell me what it would cost, but I imagine it was several tens of thousands of pounds just to bring in a third cable overhead and provide a new network.

The noble Baroness raised a more acute point to do with the overall capacity. There is a lot of demand queuing up for this because, if we are talking about electric vehicles that is one thing, but if we are decarbonising people’s heating in their homes that is another thing altogether. I remember, not so long ago, quizzing the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about what this meant in terms of the additional demand on the grid—it was pretty substantial. We are not anywhere near that, either in the generating capacity or the distribution system on the network.

So we are a tad behind the curve, and the only way that I can see to deal with that is having a much more comprehensive approach. That is due to be, or has been, discussed in the context of the Bill, which looks at decentralised generation of one sort or another, so that we can somehow get more capacity back into the system. This is a great problem because, if you want to charge your car in 40 minutes, for example, that requires a lot of power going into the charging unit. If you just want to do it overnight, via a 13-amp extension lead from your living room, that is another matter altogether. So I appreciate that getting this right and getting more granular, in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is vital, or else we will lose sight of this and try to cater to one thing when, in fact, there is a basket of other things. So I am very supportive of this.

The only amendment I have not spoken to is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who is right: where there are 20 mph limits, the traffic often does flow more quickly. On the other hand, there are areas with 30 mph limits that should probably be retained, unless you get complete gridlock; one thinks of arterial routes into towns. But that is possibly a debate for another day, and I doubt that the noble Baroness would necessarily agree with my analysis.

My Lords, I was reflecting that we have barely mentioned levelling up in the last two Committee days. Yet my noble friend has helpfully raised the importance of relating everything we do to the levelling-up missions, which include references to accessible public transport in order to enable accessibility to employment. That was timely.

My name is on Amendment 468, which is about accessible railway stations. I will not repeat what my noble friend said because I cannot add anything, except that I endorse her praise of the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lady Brinton, and their consistent determination to keep accessible public transport at the forefront of our thinking. If public transport is accessible to the least mobile, it is much better for everyone else, those who are mobile; it makes it better for everyone.

I will briefly speak to Amendment 240, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, because some planning issues are related to it. Everything he said is quite right. The NPPF, which we have mentioned several times, already has a policy on retaining public rights of way, cycle networks, bridleways and so on. Therefore, many local plans will incorporate them, including that of my own council, which

“will support development proposals that can be served by alternative modes of transport such as public transport, cycling and walking”.

The council says:

“The core walking and cycling network as shown on the Policies Map will provide an integrated system of cycle routes, public footpaths and bridleways that provide opportunity for alternative sustainable means of travel throughout the district and provide efficient links to urban centres and sites allocated for development in the Local Plan”.

I thought that all local plans would incorporate such policies, although, from what the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said, this is clearly not the case. He pointed to the division of responsibilities for highways between the counties and districts, for planning purposes. Therefore, when plan-making, I hope the Government will have a requirement—they may already have one, but if so, it needs to be underlined—to incorporate the highways policies of the responsible council concerned. That would solve at least one of the problems raised.

The fundamental problem with a lot of our planning development policies—I raised this in a different context on the last Committee day—is implementing them. As with my council, we can have grand and worthy policies on retaining the public rights of way network, cycleways, bridleways and all the rest of it, but when that comes up against commercial development interests, I can tell noble Lords now that those interests always win. We have to find a way of balancing that better.

Of course, if a public right of way goes through a commercial developer’s site, it will want to adjust it, but this always has to be in the best interest of the public right of way as well; however, that often does not happen. For example, a development site in my locality abuts the M62, and a historic public right of way went through the middle of it. Of course, the developer did not want to retain it, and the proposal was to divert it so that it ran along the M62. Who would use that? Some of us managed to get it put elsewhere on the site—but that is what we are up against. This is my plea to the Minister, and it is a big challenge for all the wonderful policies we have discussed: how can we ensure that they can be implemented when they are up against commercial interests? That is the key because currently, commercial interests have the upper hand in the end, and in my experience they always win.

Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell me that all new planning applications are required to have an electric vehicle charging point, because that would make sense. My council requires this. This could go into the NPPF, and, if it is not possible—because flats are being considered—there could be a requirement for public provision in the locality of the development.

My noble friend Lady Randerson raised a big challenge about the differential VAT charges. This is outrageous: I had not realised that public charging points have higher VAT attached to them than domestic ones. If we are really going to encourage electric vehicle use, which we must, surely a tax incentive is one of the ways to do so. With those words I look forward to what the Minister says.

My Lords, I support Amendment 240 in the names of my noble friends Lord Berkeley and Lord Hunt, the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Before I turn to the specific amendments in this group, I will mention the very helpful discussion which took place in Grand Committee on Monday on the Built Environment Select Committee’s report on public transport in towns and cities. The committee’s recommendations were very helpful to our consideration of this Bill. I thank the chair of that committee, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, the members of that committee and all those who gave evidence.

The Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Vere—was part of that discussion so there is no need for me to go through all the points relevant to the Bill, which I am sure she will pass on to her colleagues in the Transport team and the DLUHC team. However, it was the overwhelming view of the committee and all noble Lords who took part on Monday that a formal link should be introduced between local plans and local transport plans. In view of the amendments in this group, it is important to record that strongly held view today.

Can I say how much I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the importance of transport to the levelling-up agenda? Like the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I too am very pleased to see the Minister responsible for transport here today to respond to the debate. As the fortunate resident of a town designed with 45 kilometres of cycleway built into it, it is unthinkable to me that planning for cycling and walking, and considering at local plan stage the infrastructure needed to support that, would not be in the Bill and intrinsic to the planning for our communities. If this amendment is accepted—I really hope it will be—then the subsequent NPPF or whatever is going to succeed that will need to take account of the anomalies that occur in these aspects of planning in two-tier authorities. My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to that earlier.

Generally these can be resolved through good liaison between authorities, but consideration should be given, as responsibility for both transport and rights of way sit with county councils, as we have heard, whereas the local plan is the responsibility of the district council. It will also need to be clear in terms of rights of way improvement plans that the responsibilities for maintenance—should it be necessary—ransom strip land purchase and so on remain the responsibility of those authorities which currently hold them. To be clear, the fact that a planning authority includes them in its local plan does not necessarily incur any additional financial or legal responsibility for these matters than existed previously. Concerns about lack of co-ordination through the National Planning Policy Framework were referred to by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, and including this provision in the Bill might encourage authorities to work together where that is not the case already.

In relation to Amendment 468 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Randerson, I echo comments about the tireless work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Grey-Thompson. It is very important to clarify that this should apply to all railway stations, including retrospectively. I know that is a difficult issue and how it works together with other disability legislation, such as the Disability Discrimination Act, should be clearly identified. There are already some provisions in there but I do not think it goes as far as we would want it to and the proof of that is what we see in our local railway stations. We heard many of examples of that during the debate.

It is, of course, crucial that we do all we can to make our rail system accessible, safe and user-friendly for all passengers. Indeed, we will never make the quantum leap in switching from private car travel to public transport that we need to reach zero carbon without such measures. I come back to the Built Environment Select Committee’s inquiry into public transport, which has very clear recommendations on this subject. As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, progress has been painfully slow on this to date and we need a bit of a rocket under it to get it going again. The very helpful introduction of things such as senior railcards is of far less use if you need to navigate several flights of stairs to cross even from one platform to another.

Amendment 470 in the names of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, requires the Secretary of State to facilitate the accelerated rollout of EV charging points for domestic and commercial customers. I strongly support this very laudable aim but there are still unresolved issues. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, have both identified, we are already seeing inequalities develop in EV charging provision and we need to watch out for that very carefully, particularly in the context of the Bill.

Then there is the issue of technology and whether it is settled enough yet to encourage the considerable cost of a UK-wide rollout. Many of us in this Chamber will remember the issues around VHS and Betamax. That is the classic example of when, if you jump early to the wrong technology, it can be very expensive indeed. Many noble Lords referred to improvements in very fast charging facilities and the way that picture is developing so rapidly. It is difficult to know when that will settle. The noble Lord, Lord Young, referred to the difference between fast and slow chargers, and we need to make sure that we get the most up-to-date provision wherever it is possible.

Secondly, in terms of domestic provision, the complex issues referred to by noble Lords by this afternoon of on-street charging must be resolved. For those fortunate enough to have a drive or land at the side of their property where charging points can be installed, it is not such an issue, but if you live in a terraced street and in housing where that is not so easy to do, it is. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, rightly made the point that this should not interrupt easy walking access for residents. For properties with no adjacent parking, installation of EV charging points can prove expensive and very disruptive in terms of cable laying and so on. My noble friend Lord Berkeley raised this issue too; we have to be concerned about it. Lastly, I have a slight concern that giving this responsibility in legislation to the Secretary of State will simply result in it and potentially the resultant cost and headaches being transferred to local authorities. That is something we need to think carefully about.

I also agree with noble Lords who have said that National Grid really has to get its act together on this issue. Even in developments I have been engaged with in my own borough, it is very often National Grid that really holds things up on many of the measures that we want in levelling up and regeneration. We need to work on how National Grid can respond more quickly to these developments.

No doubt, all those issues could be considered and resolved and there is clearly an urgent need to accelerate the provision of EV charging. My noble friend Lord Berkeley mentioned 8,000 public charging points. This is woeful. The noble Lord, Lord Young, mentioned that this has been flagged up for over 30 years now. We can all remember talking about this many decades ago, so surely it is time now that we made urgent progress.

I turn now to Amendment 482 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. At the moment, some local authorities do a very good job of making the case to residents in their communities for reducing speed limits, and I pay tribute to campaign organisations such as 20’s Plenty for Us that are producing fantastic support on that. In addition to the points that have been made about it, I also mention that the reduction in pollutants at lower speed is a key issue here as well as the other benefits in noise pollution, safety for other road users and so on.

We believe that this is an area where decisions are far better taken locally so that benefits can be explained fully as the change is implemented. I pay tribute to Hertfordshire County Council, which has worked very closely across the county with local councillors and their communities to develop an evidence base, introduce consultation with members and the communities that they represent and then put appropriate funding allocation in place, first on a pilot basis and then more widely across the county. That is a very good example, and it was lovely to hear another example of how the Welsh Labour Government are leading the way in this respect.

Amendment 486 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, refers to the need for the Government to update Parliament on progress against their EV infrastructure strategy, which was published in March 2022. Irrespective of the comments I made earlier about the complexities of introducing EV charging, at the very least the Government should be delivering against the strategy they have set for themselves. The disparity in provision from place to place is as important as the sheer number of charging points available, so we certainly support the amendment.

My Lords, I am very pleased to make my debut on the LURB. I am sorry that it has taken so long, but I may be back again in due course, should there be more transport amendments. Today, it is my job to address this group of amendments, which relate to transport; there are four, and I shall address each in turn.

I start with Amendment 240, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which relates to cycling and walking and to the role of active travel in local development. I think that all noble Lords agree that the Government recognise the importance of walking and cycling and the role that the planning system plays in enabling development in sustainable locations, supported by active travel infrastructure. It is already the case that national planning policies must be considered by local authorities when preparing a local plan and are a material consideration in all planning decisions. The Bill does not alter this principle and will strengthen the importance of those national policies which relate to decision-making.

The existing National Planning Policy Framework is clear that transport issues, including opportunities to promote walking and cycling, should be considered from the earliest stages of plan-making and when considering development proposals. The NPPF also states that policies in local plans should provide for attractive and well-designed walking and cycling networks with supporting facilities, such as secure cycle parking, drawing on local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. The NPPF also places environmental objectives at the heart of the planning system, making it clear that planning should protect and enhance our natural environment, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and support the transition to a low-carbon future. The Government have recently concluded a consultation on changes to the NPPF to ensure that it contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation as fully as possible.

I always react with some trepidation when my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham shares his thoughts with your Lordships’ House. He has an enormous amount of experience in this area—and, it would seem, in most areas of government. He challenged me to explain why we think the guidance will achieve our aims. I believe that it is more than just guidance; the NPPF and the new national development management policy set out the Government’s planning policies for England and how they should be applied. These are material considerations in planning decisions. The power in securing positive change for communities is substantial and should not be referred to as just “guidance”.

There is another step forward—perhaps slightly towards where my noble friend would like us to be—with Active Travel England. Many noble Lords will know that Active Travel England was set up relatively recently, and its role will expand over time. It will become a statutory consultee on certain major planning applications from June this year. That means that local planning authorities will be required to consult ATE on planning applications, where developments meet one of the following minimum thresholds: where it has 150 residential units; where it is 7,500 square metres of commercial area; or where it is a site with an area of 5 hectares or more. Furthermore, ATE will also take an active role in supporting the preparation of local plans and design codes.

It is also worth reflecting that local plans must be put in place quickly, and so we must avoid imposing a plethora of additional statutory requirements which local authorities must have regard to, especially when clear expectations are already set through national policy. There is one other—

I apologise to the Minister, but could she explain to the House where the balance lies between commercial interests and their development, and the policies that she has rightly described as very positive and as needing to be put into place? In my experience, the balance is currently in the hands of the commercial interests.

I had better write with more details on that subject. As noble Lords will know, I have not been involved in the Bill for very long but, reflecting on some of the contributions to the Built Environment Committee, I sometimes question whether noble Lords have any confidence in local authorities at all. If the noble Baroness is asking what the balance is between commercial interests and other local interests, I ask: do we not want the local authority to be making those decisions for its local communities and therefore granting planning permission on that basis? In terms of how we would provide the overarching vision for that, I am very happy to set that out in more detail in a letter.

My apologies for also interrupting the Minister. I know that she has not been part of previous discussions on the National Planning Policy Framework with regard to the Bill, or the sequence of events as to when we will see the finalised version of the NPPF, but noble Lords have expressed concern that we are being told that some things are going into one, while other things are going into the other. Because we will not see the finalised version of the National Planning Policy Framework before the end of Committee—unless the Bill goes on even longer than it already has—we have concerns that we will not understand what is going into one and what is going into the other. I repeat that point again, because it is very important to some of the previous points under discussion in earlier days in Committee about how the two fit together.

Indeed, I am aware that those conversations have been happening and, as a Transport Minister, perhaps I had better not add anything further. However, it is worth highlighting that the Government are taking forward other policies for cycling and walking, which I believe will be helpful to local authorities in thinking about how cycling, walking and active travel are taken into account when it comes to local development. The Manual for the Streets guidance is incredibly important and is being updated. We are also planning to refresh the guidance supporting the development of the local transport plan.

It is also worth noting the tens of millions of pounds that the Government have awarded to local transport authorities to upskill the capacity and capabilities of their staff to ensure that things happen. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned her council in Kirklees, where things all seem to be tickety-boo. Therefore, I would expect other local authorities to look at that council to try to emulate that because, essentially, we want local decisions to be taken locally—that is at the heart of this matter.

I turn now to the amendment on railway accessibility in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I appreciate the contributions made by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, providing details of specific areas where we need to make improvement. Improved access to the railway is a key priority for the Government. The Transport Secretary is committed to funding transport infrastructure improvements, including improvements to stations to make them more accessible for disabled passengers. The Department for Transport has already invested £383 million under the Access for All programme between 2019 and 2024, and there is more to come.

The Design Standards for Accessible Railway Stations, published in 2015, set out the standards that must be met when new railway infrastructure or facilities are installed, renewed or replaced. Noble Lords may question the date of 2015 and say that it is a little while ago, but I reassure them that the process is being set out at the moment as to how the standards will be refreshed.

Noble Lords will also be aware that the Government have now completed an audit of all stations across the network. That data will be shared with Great British Railways; it will be made public; and that will be very helpful for ensuring that as many people as possible who are less mobile can travel. I accept, however, that some stations remain less accessible. Can we fix them all at once? I am afraid we cannot, but I would like to reassure the Committee that all stations, regardless of size and location, are eligible for funding under the Access for All programme.

I am very pleased to hear about the Government’s commitment and that we will soon get details that will help us on this. We all acknowledge that you cannot do it all at once. What we want to see is progress, so I was very disappointed to read about the Network Rail briefing this week, which became public. It said that the amount of money available was not enough to maintain existing standards of reliability on the railways, let alone make progress with improving accessibility. The noble Baroness might like to make a comment on that.

The noble Baroness would probably decline to make a comment on that at this moment, as that would take us far away from the area of accessibility, which is under consideration today. However, the noble Baroness asked whether progress had been made. So far, step-free accessible routes have been delivered at 200 stations, and smaller-scale access improvements have been made at 1,500 stations. We have made progress; there is much more progress to come; and we are absolutely committed to making it.

Amendments 470 and 486 relate to the charging of electric vehicles, I share all noble Lords’ concerns about electric vehicle charge points and how important they are as we decarbonise our transport system. The first of the two amendments seeks to amend the Electricity Act 1989 to add an explicit reference to electric vehicle charge point provision in addition to the need to

“secure that all reasonable demands for electricity are met”.

The Electricity Act 1989 already requires the Secretary of State to give regard to securing that all reasonable demands for electricity are met. This requirement already includes the charging of electric vehicles. We therefore believe that the amendment is unnecessary, and indeed that it might be unhelpful to other equally critical areas of the decarbonisation effort such as, for example, heat pumps. In carrying out this duty under the Electricity Act, the Secretary of State works closely with Ofgem, as the independent energy regulator is responsible for regulating network companies to ensure that sufficient grid capacity is built and operated to meet consumer demand. Of course, we work very closely with Ofgem as price controls are developed, so that our work aligns to meet the needs of customers, including electric vehicle users.

We are investing £3.1 billion for network upgrades to support the uptake of electric vehicles and heat pumps. This is significant upfront funding and, combined with an agile price control system for net zero-related expenditure, it will enable the investment in the network infrastructure needed to facilitate heat and transport electrification.

There were a number of questions around the provision of charge points themselves. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about new homes. We laid legislation that came into force in June last year requiring most new homes and those undergoing major renovation with associated parking in England to have a charge point or a cable route for charge points installed from the outset. We estimate that this will lead to the installation of up to 145,000 new charge points across England every year.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked about home and business charge points. The Government have supported the installation of about 400,000 of these charge points. Of course, there will be many, many more out there that have been installed without government support—and, to my mind, long may that continue.

I turn now to the second of the two amendments on charge points, which relates to reporting. I do not believe that this amendment is necessary, because I am pleased to confirm that the Government routinely publish monthly and quarterly EV public charging device statistics. These are broken down by device speed category, region and local authority area. The latest report outlined that, as of 1 April, there are more than 40,000 available public charging devices, of which more than 7,600 are rapid or above charging devices—a 33% increase. We also routinely publish the number of devices funded through government grant schemes. As I pointed out, many more will be installed that are not funded by the Government, and we would not necessarily be able to find out where they are. If there is further information that the noble Baroness would like about public charging points that we might reasonably be able to gather, I would be very happy to discuss this with her further. I have noted the other comments on EV charge points and will reflect on them further.

Finally, I turn to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, about a blanket reduction on restricted roads from 30 to 20 miles per hour. I noted some of the comments from the noble Baroness, and I agreed with some of them. None the less, I am not convinced that a blanket application of this lower speed limit is appropriate because, again, it would undermine local decision-makers’ ability to set the most appropriate speed for the roads in their area, based on local knowledge and the views of the local community. Actually, I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, agrees with me. Indeed, she seems to agree with me for England but not for Wales, where it is not something that a local authority can decide.

I believe there was widespread consultation from the Welsh Government with Welsh local government in terms of doing this. I have that in my notes, but my notes are a bit scribbly and I missed it out. May I just make the point that the Welsh Government, as they always do, have consulted very widely with Welsh local government on this?

That is fantastic to hear, and I am sure that all local authorities 100% agreed with the Welsh Government in that regard.

The second element to this is that a blanket approach would be—

Would the Minister acknowledge that 30 miles per hour was, of course, the blanket applied by Westminster? That is what has been set by Westminster, and it is of considerable cost for councils to apply a reduction. We are discussing the levelling-up Bill, and it is councils in the poorest areas of the country that would see the greatest benefits but may well not have the money to be able to bring in that improvement for their residents.

I was about to come on to the fact that changing the speed limit on a blanket basis would be incredibly costly and complex to introduce. I go back to the first point, which I believe is the stronger of the two arguments, because you can throw money at anything and make it work. Local authorities quite rightly have the power to set speed limits on the roads in their areas. Many local authorities have decided to do 20 miles per hour zones in all or parts of their area, and that is entirely up to them. We endorse that approach in Department for Transport guidance and, particularly, we think that that is something that should be considered where pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles are all in close proximity. However, they are not always in close proximity. There will be roads which the local community and their local elected leaders will decide should stay at 30.

If one were to apply this blanket change to 20 miles per hour, what would happen is that all of the repeater signs for 20 miles per hour that already exist for those areas that are 20 miles an hour would have to be removed, or there would have to be repeater signs for 30 miles an hour put in. This would, of course, be after the local authority had gone through its entire road network to figure out which roads should be at which speed. So I believe that where we are at the moment provides the balance between ensuring that local people are taking responsibility and decisions for matters that affect their local communities, based on their local knowledge. The corollary to that is that if one applies a blanket approach now, it would be very costly, as the noble Baroness has already pointed out herself.

With the assurance that I have given in relation to each of the amendments in this group, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will feel able to withdraw his Amendment 240 and that the other amendments in this group are not moved when they are reached.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this excellent debate. Many of them are probably the usual suspects on these things, but it has been a useful debate, reinforcing many of the views that we have all held for a long time. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, mentioned PPG13; I remember it when I was in the commercial side, which is a very long time. Christian Wolmar is still chair of the Labour transport group and we are both patrons of the All-Party Group for Cycling and Walking. The group held an event in Portcullis House yesterday and Mr Wolmar was there promoting this. It is working very hard, which is good to know.

I will not respond to all the other comments on other amendments; it is not my place to do that. I just point out to the Minister, who mentioned the NPPF and the question in relation to my Amendment 240 on whether we should rely on the new NPPFs, that I said in my opening remarks that the current one mentions local cycling and walking infrastructure plans only very briefly and does not mention right of way improvement plans at all. We will need to look very carefully at what the Minister said in her helpful response and decide whether we bring back something different on Report.

I cannot resist one last comment on the speed limit issues. Once we all have electronic self-driving cars, it can all be changed anywhere at the click of a mouse—if we believe that will ever happen.

On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 240 withdrawn.

Amendment 241 not moved.

Amendment 241A

Moved by

241A: After Clause 93, insert the following new Clause—

“Meaning of “affordable housing”: affordable rent(1) In Annex 2 of the National Planning Policy Framework (glossary), in paragraph (a) of the definition of “affordable housing” (affordable housing for rent) omit “or Affordable Rent, or is at least 20% below local market rents (including service charges where applicable)”.(2) As soon as reasonably practicable and within two months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must publish a revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework, replacing the Affordable Housing for Rent definition with one based on incomes not market rates.”

My Lords, in moving Amendment 241A, I shall speak also to my Amendment 500 and comment on other amendments in this group.

I should declare from the outset that social housing is a topic very close to my heart. As a new-town child, when I was growing up, more than 30,000 of the 38,000 homes in my town were built and managed by the development corporation and later taken over by the council. Almost everyone I knew lived in a council home. They had been built in self-contained neighbourhoods with large amounts of green space, schools, health facilities, shops and so on all within a 10-minute walk. They were mostly two, three and four-bedroom family houses with gardens. Sadly, as land values have increased, that type of development is all too scarce.

As noble Lords will be aware, the introduction of right to buy not only took a scythe to housing stocks but, particularly in the new towns, disrupted the community cohesion brought about by shared housing tenure. Those 30,000 homes that I mentioned earlier have reduced to just over 8,000 now. The figure for the UK is that there are around 1.5 million fewer council homes now than in 1980. Councillors’ inboxes are full—permanently—of housing cases. Surely the generations who benefited from right to buy cannot just pull up the ladder behind them. From the experience of my councillor surgeries, they had not anticipated the impact on their children and grandchildren, never mind all the other young people for whom private renting, let along buying homes, is fast disappearing over their financial horizon.

Just yesterday, we had a shocking report from the National Housing Federation, setting out the impact of overcrowding, particularly on the life opportunities of young people. The findings of its report say that more than 300,000 children in England have to share beds with other family members. Some 2 million children live in cramped conditions with little or no personal space. Ethnic minority households are three times more likely to be overcrowded than white households. More than one-quarter of the parents living in overcrowded homes who were questioned by researchers said that they regularly had to sleep in a living room, bathroom, hallway or kitchen.

The family featured in the National Housing Federation press release, Joanna and her daughter Deni, were forced to seek council help when private rented accommodation became too expensive. Joanna had never been able to afford a two-bedroom property but, with rents soaring, now struggles to afford a one-bedroom flat. Deni, a talented musical student who is on the Royal Opera House programme for promising singers, has shared a bed with her mother for the whole of her 10 years and spends school holidays sitting on that bed while her mother works from home.

My own casework contains hundreds of housing cases a year, around 70% of which relate to homelessness, overcrowding or affordability. Shelter, which does such magnificent work in this area, held an independent commission which pointed out that we have lost 1.5 million social homes since 1980 and recommended that government rediscover publicly built housing as a key pillar of our national infrastructure by building 3.1 million new social homes over the next 20 years. That is a very ambitious target, especially when we note that only 6,463 more social homes were built last year, and 500 of those were by my local authority. After the Second World War, local authorities built more than 126,000 social homes a year. The biggest barriers are land and funding. Shelter, IPPR, CPRE, National Housing Federation, Onward and Create Streets all call for reform of the Land Compensation Act 1961, so that landowners are paid a fair price for their land without hope value. We will discuss this when we come to future amendments. Local government has also argued for many years that we should retain 100% of our right-to-buy receipts. We welcome recent developments on that front but, had it happened decades ago, we would not have seen the catastrophic impact on housing stock levels.

The Resolution Foundation’s Housing Outlook report for the first quarter of 2023 stated that, although mortgagors had been affected by rising interest rates,

“private and social renters are much more likely to report falling behind or struggling with their housing costs”.

It also said that,

“worryingly high numbers of … renters report signs of material deprivation and are resorting to sometimes unsustainable strategies to manage their housing costs”.

They include borrowing money, using savings or not heating their homes. The ONS deems rental properties affordable if a household does not spend more than 30% of its income on rent. In this country, only the east Midlands and the north-west had rent prices affordable to those in the lower quartile of household income.

There are also key financial drivers to the provision of social rented homes. First, the rent paid by social renters is recirculated to improve stock, build new homes, develop specialist housing and so on. This is sometimes the case with good private landlords, but not always. Secondly, it makes no sense to subsidise higher private rents through the benefits systems. A rapid increase in social housing stock would generate savings, as there are stark contrasts in rent levels. The figures for my area are indeed stark, with social rent for a two-bedroom property at £110 a week and private rent at £235. The local housing allowance is just £195. The amount that councils spend on temporary accommodation has increased by 71% in the past five years and now costs more than £1 billion a year.

I hope that I have set out clearly the issues and the impact that housing supply is having on the affordability of housing. My Amendment 241A is included to remove from the NPPF the spurious term “affordable housing” from rented properties that are 20% below market rent. In many areas, that would be far from affordable. For many families on low incomes, the only affordable housing is social rented housing.

Amendment 242, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and Amendment 242ZA, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, attempt a comprehensive redefinition of the term “affordable home” to ensure that there is a link between median incomes and the definition of affordable homes, with that definition then enshrined in regulations. We support this proposal in principle and would want to work with the sector to ensure that there is a much more meaningful definition included in legislation and in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Amendment 262 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, highlights the specific issues of affordable housing in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The issues around these were clearly elucidated by my noble friend Lady Hayman yesterday—I am sorry, on Tuesday. The weeks go by with this Bill, I am afraid. She quoted the former chair of National Parks England, Carl Lis, who warned that young people and national park staff are being forced out of their communities, in part by the high prices driven by exclusive holiday homes. She also referred to a statement by the Secretary of State in the other place on 21 March in which he pledged planning changes to the Bill to ensure that restrictions would be put in place on conversions of homes to Airbnbs. Failure to act on this important issue will see the continued decimation of communities in our most precious landscapes, as increasing numbers of homes are bought for second homes and converted to Airbnb use. Local councils must be able to use the planning system in the best interests of their communities. I hope that this amendment and that submitted by my noble friend on Tuesday, or a version of them, will be accepted to achieve the Secretary of State’s aim.

Amendment 286 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, suggests bringing forward the requirements of the future homes standard to June 2023. In view of the protracted progress on the Bill through your Lordships’ House, this may prove a tad ambitious, although, of course, we hope that these can be implemented as quickly as possible. The second part of this amendment would grant powers to local authorities to determine for themselves what percentage of affordable homes is needed. We absolutely accept this in terms of devolution principles, but I just echo my noble friend Lady Hayman’s comments on Tuesday that, although we must be serious about meeting the affordable housing need, we also need to consider that communities need mixed tenures in housing.

We support Amendment 438 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Shipley. I remember the absolute horror with which the original announcement of this measure was greeted by my colleagues in local government in 2012. Some London boroughs rightly pointed out that every property in their housing stock would exceed the threshold. We welcome the fact that the Government have already committed that they will scrap this policy, so perhaps incorporating this amendment is a quick and easy way to do so.

Lastly, I turn to my Amendment 500. Mission 10 in the White Paper is the key mission relating to housing. While its ambition in terms of improving the quality of rented property is admirable, in other ways it looks at housing through the wrong end of the lens: it sees levelling up only through the point of view of property ownership. For millions of people on housing waiting lists, in temporary accommodation, sleeping on their friends’ sofas or, as in a case I dealt with yesterday, having to conduct access visits with their children in their car because they have nowhere to live, the prospect of a safe, sustainable home with a secure social housing tenancy would meet their immediate aspirations of levelling up. That is why we hope the Government will recognise the absolute importance and value of social housing and use the opportunity of the Bill to commit to building the numbers we need. I beg to move.

My Lords, I shall speak in support of Amendment 242 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. I do so having consulted the Bishop of Chelmsford, who leads for the Church of England on housing but is unable to be here today. It is clear, I think, that we need to rethink what genuinely affordable housing is and how an adequate supply can be delivered. In London, the south-east and many other areas across the country, the current affordable housing for rent definition of 20% below market rates makes little difference to those on a median income, let alone those in most need. Without redefinition, we will continue to work under the illusion that homes classed as affordable are helping to solve the housing affordability crisis, when for the most part they are not.

Of course, we need a multifaceted approach to solve the lack of affordable homes. I was interested to learn from the Bishop of Chelmsford that Vicky Ford MP has been addressing this in relation to Chelmsford. During her 10-minute rule Bill debate on 22 February, she spoke to the shortage of affordable housing we face locally and nationally. Her Affordable Housing (Conversion of Commercial Property) Bill would apply affordable housing obligations to conversions of commercial property to residential occupancy. The Bill is due its Second Reading in the Commons on 26 May, and we certainly hope that it will make some progress.

Today, I urge the Government to look favourably on Amendment 242, which seeks a new definition of affordable homes based on the income of the purchaser or renter and not the open market price of the property. The amendment’s three-pronged approach is, in my view, an effective one. In linking a calculation of affordability to the local housing allowance for renters, it agrees that the Government’s own calculation in relation to housing benefit works for a particular local housing market and can play a part in bringing more affordable accommodation. On this point, I briefly urge the Government to unfreeze LHA from April 2020 levels to truly reflect the increase in rents over the past three years.

Likewise, it is welcome that the amendment seeks to ensure that

“annual mortgage costs … do not exceed 35% of the adult median income of employed people”.

This is a good proxy for ensuring affordability across England in a way that reduces exclusion. The amendment’s provisions on shared ownership flow from the same sound formulas already set out. It is clear that we need an immediate short, medium and long-term solution to the affordable housing crisis we face. Sticking plaster approaches of X number of homes built or not built in a year will not address this. This amendment would be a very helpful step in the right direction towards defining what truly affordable housing should look like.

My Lords, I am very pleased that I chose to give way to the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Leeds, because he has done a superb job in introducing the amendment in my name, and I thank him very much for that. Perhaps I can just step back and look at the group that we are debating as a whole. There are five different approaches from the different amendments, which are all tackling the same problem. They approach it in different ways, but they are all aiming at a common destination. I will say to the Minister that it would be a mistake for her to simply play off the five different amendments and assume that there is no consensus and that this can simply be dismissed. They are all aimed at correcting the same fundamental policy mistake, which is to assume that the current formulation of the words “affordable homes” actually means affordable homes. It does not. It does not mean that, either in the private rented sector or the private ownership sector.

The highly desirable provision of affordable homes is supposed to be delivered through the planning obligations placed on developers when planning permission is granted. The calculation of that affordability is currently based on 80% of the market sale price of that property on that site or, alternatively, 80% of the market rent which is applicable in that general locality. Now the reality is that in many parts of England, especially but not only in London, taking 20% off either the market price or the rental price, while it does make it cheaper, does not make it affordable to those in the most local housing need.

My noble friend Lord Foster provided me with a typical case that illustrates this rather dramatically. It relates to Southwold in east Suffolk, where there are significant housing problems—for instance, last month, 31 homeless families applied to occupy one vacant rental property. So, there is absolutely no shortage of demand; it is a rural area 100 miles away from London. There is a terrible shortage of supply, despite the availability of so-called “affordable homes” achieved as a result of a planning agreement. One such so-called affordable shared ownership property in Southwold has been on the market for two years, during which time there have been no eligible local people able to afford to take it on. Local incomes are simply not high enough. That unaffordable home is on a redeveloped former hospital site where more than £1 million of public money has been contributed to “prioritise housing for local people”. Now, because there has been no eligible buyer, that home is going on the open market. That is a tragic lost opportunity to provide a home to meet local need; and, of course, it is a pitiful waste of public money.

In most London boroughs, affordable homes are not in reach unless you have two professional incomes at the household’s disposal. If Ministers doubt that, I suggest that they might like to ask the civil servants sitting in the Box behind them about their housing circumstances. Young professionals in London are squeezed out of the purchasing market and in grave difficulty even in the renting market. Those two London professionals who put their incomes together will perhaps be able to buy a house at a discounted price. That is good, but it is not a solution to London’s housing crisis. In Southwold and many other areas of the country, neither professional employment nor the bank of mum and dad can bridge the gap between real life and the policy intentions of “affordable homes”.

The five amendments in this group on this topic all start from the premise that affordability has real meaning only if it is based on income levels and not on the market or capital value of the home. Amendment 242 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Thornhill was the first to appear on the Order Paper, but I concede that it is not necessarily the best option for the Minister, because it sets out a simple way of calculating affordability and might perhaps be best described as a statutory instrument rather than an approach to go in a Bill. But what we have is a formula that is based on existing databases for homes for sale, rent and shared ownership. That calculation is focused on local housing allowance figures for renters and for purchasers of median household income. We do not need a royal commission to consider these matters, nor indeed does the ONS need to devise a new way of measuring things. Everything is there, so the Minister could just get on with it.

I very much welcome the support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, with whom I had discussions beforehand, and now of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, for my Amendment 242, but I recognise that such a specific amendment might in itself be controversial. Therefore, my noble friend Lady Pinnock and I also tabled Amendment 242ZA, which puts the same proposition in the court of the Minister or the Secretary of State to write the regulations rather than us doing it for him. I do not need to spend too much time advocating for either of these or commenting on the other options in the group. All are aimed at a complete reset of the affordability policy as it stands in the NPPF, so that homes set aside under that policy in future are affordable for those in housing need.

However, I need to spend a short time underlining that there are at least two parallel affordability bottlenecks. The first, which my Southwold example highlights, is the bottleneck—almost the deceit—caused by the assumption that a home sold at 80% of its market price is likely to be affordable to those in most housing need. It is true that such homes bring a new slice of first-time buyers into the market, but in many places they will be people with substantial incomes, a long way above those referred to by the right reverend Prelate and so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage.

Providing them through the planning system as affordable homes misleadingly implies—sometimes it is explicitly said—that it is a significant move towards tackling and reducing housing need for those in most hardship. That is simply not true. The recalibration we seek in my two amendments is to put that right and bring all such homes within reach of any household at or above the median income for that area. My noble friend Lord Foster tells me that, in Southwold, the affordability ratio is currently 17:1. That is outrageous. What happens to the affordability ratio if you take 20% off the price? It becomes 13:1. That does not make it affordable. Affordability defined like that is simply a poor joke.

The second bottleneck is the provision of an affordable home for households whose income is below the median and for whom a house purchase is completely out of sight. Such a household will by default be in the formal or, increasingly, the informal rented sector, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, powerfully illustrated. There is sloppy talk about affordable homes being provided for rent within schemes of development which are far removed from the reality of people’s lives and their ability to pay. As a side note, half of the council homes sold are now back in the private rented sector—it is officially known that half of all the sold social homes have been transferred to the private rented sector, where the average rent is approximately double what it would be. You have terraces with a mixture of former council homes and those that remain social homes where the rent paid can be different by a factor of two, depending on whether it is a sold home or not.

My two amendments offer a solution by setting out clearly what is to be regarded as affordable rent when evaluating developments that purport to provide such accommodation. If adopted, the claims by some developers about their provision of “affordable” units would be weeded out and more genuinely affordable homes for rent would enter the market. For the third category of shared ownership, we recognise that a hybrid calculation of affordability will be required, and we have outlined how it might be done.

However, this is not about the minutiae of particular schemes; it is about recognising and then doing something about turning the hollow words of affordability calculated on house prices into a meaningful policy based on households’ ability to pay. If Ministers accept that basic principle and reshape the existing schemes to make affordable homes affordable, based on income, I am sure that all noble Lords with amendments down would be only too ready to work with them to get the small print right and dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s. Pending that important step, I will keep my Amendment 242.

My Lords, before the noble Lord takes his seat, may I apologise for jumping the gun? Before he had been able to speak to his own amendment, there was a silence and, like nature, I abhorred a vacuum, but I do apologise.

My Lords, I rise to speak particularly to my Amendment 438, but I will preface my remarks by saying how much I have appreciated this debate and the contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. We have explored this issue in a comprehensive and useful way, and I greatly appreciate that.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to the Affordable Housing Commission report, which came out in the middle of Covid and was therefore buried and forgotten by everybody. The AHC report, which noble Lords can find via Google or their favourite search engine, was a pretty big effort, thankfully funded fully by the Nationwide Foundation—the Nationwide Building Society’s foundation—with a secretariat from the Smith Institute; I had the honour of chairing this. The report is a pretty meaty document and worth those who are interested in this subject following through, but that was a great debate on those amendments, and I support the essence of all of them.

My amendment 438, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has kindly added his name, seeks to remove from the statute book an obnoxious, offensive legislative measure which has hung over local authorities since the passing of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. I reiterate my declaration of interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Back in 2016, I was the LGA president and along with allies from all parts of the House, including the noble Lord, Lord Porter, with his local government expertise, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, we fought—unsuccessfully—to remove these awful sections from the 2016 Act.

What does this part of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 say, and why is it so troublesome? The key section imposes obligations on local authorities to sell their most valuable council housing when tenants move out, rather than reletting the property. It does so by requiring local authorities to pay a levy to the Secretary of State equivalent to the market value of the best council housing when it becomes vacant, multiplied by the estimated number of vacancies for the next year. To raise the money to pay this levy, local authorities would obviously have no option but to sell their most valuable homes. Most of the proceeds from these compulsory sales go straight to the Secretary of State, who, in a convoluted twist, would use the money to compensate housing associations for selling properties at large discounts to their tenants under an extension of the right to buy.

The effect of this extraordinary measure, had it ever been implemented, would have been highly damaging both for local authorities trying to meet the acute need for social housing in their areas and for the families desperately waiting for a home. Council housing would be further stigmatised and labelled as only for those with no hope of anything better, and with fewer re-lets, pressure on the remaining council stock would be even more intense than it already is.

Buyers of the housing which councils would be forced to sell would very often be private landlords who would let to similar occupiers but would charge market rents, thereby imposing twice the burden on the Exchequer for tenants in receipt of benefits. I was glad to catch up with the latest statistic from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell: that 50% of properties sold under the right to buy have been moved into the hands of private landlords and, obviously, let at rents that are twice as much, if not more.

To add insult to injury, the 2016 Act also empowered the Secretary of State to top up this raid on council resources by requiring local authorities to raise the rents to market levels for any tenant foolish enough to increase their income above a fixed level. The extra rent would not go towards management and maintenance of council housing but instead would be remitted to the Secretary of State as a windfall for the Government.

I moved an amendment opposing the measure and it was carried by a huge majority in this House. I even featured on the BBC documentary on the work of the House of Lords. Although it remains in law, it is another ingredient in the 2016 Act that thankfully has not seen the light of day.

Returning to the compulsory sales of higher-value council housing, as is addressed by the amendment, we can now see what a disaster this would have been—but the offending measure remains on the statute book. In reality, this sword of Damocles hanging over councils is no longer a major threat since Government Ministers have made it clear that they have no intention of using these draconian asset-stripping powers. Indeed, I am confident that Ministers understand the imperative for more, not less, social housing provision.

It was, no doubt, the work of an enthusiastic but naive special adviser coming up with a cunning wheeze to extract the cost from local authorities of securing new right-to-buy sales by housing associations. Today there would be little appetite for such shenanigans which would reduce the stock of available social housing, following the right to buy’s removal of 2.8 million council homes and the subsequent higher costs of using the private rented sector instead. Indeed, the right to buy has now been abolished in Scotland, and Wales is following suit.

Councils have welcomed the Government’s recent move enabling them to retain 100% of right-to-buy receipts for 2022-23 and 2023-24. With long waiting lists for social housing and the private sector becoming more and more unfeasible for many households, that announcement should support councils trying to replace the homes sold through right to buy. It would be helpful if the Government completed this change and made it permanent rather than just for two years. On this theme, I hope that the Government will finally agree to councils having the ability to set right-to-buy discounts locally as part of the Bill’s emphasis on devolution.

The time has surely come to be rid of this 2016 misguided measure to strip local authorities of their best housing assets. The LGA and others have been waiting for a legislative opportunity for the Government to enact their clear intention to have nothing to do with this defunct legislative device. The Bill provides that opportunity, and I think everyone in local government and in the world of social housing will breathe a sigh of relief to see this expunged from the statute book. I commend this amendment.

My Lords, I wish to intervene briefly to put this debate in an important context. Before I do so, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Best, on eventually achieving the victory which he sought when the 2016 Act was going through; it was not the best piece of legislation on housing that Parliament has seen. I agree with what the right reverend Prelate said—that we should unfreeze the local housing allowance or, if we cannot, increase the discretionary housing grant, to enable those who find that they cannot meet the rent to have more support.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that “affordable” is a misnomer, but there is a fundamental choice that we have to make, which is: the higher the rents, the more social houses you can build; and the lower the rents, the fewer social houses you can build. That is simply because of the way that social landlords are funded. A Government decide to have a capital fund available for new builds. A Government of a different persuasion may have a higher figure than the current one but, whatever that figure, the number of houses that can be built is dependent on the rent levels which the social landlords can charge.

A Housing Minister has a choice: you can have lower rents, social rents or genuinely affordable rents, but you will get less output. When I had responsibility and was faced with this spectrum, I went for slightly more output but slightly higher rents, to meet the demand for new houses and to build more houses that would last 60 years. I recognise that others may choose to go the other way on the spectrum, but you cannot get away from the fact that this is the choice. If you want to have affordable rents reduced to social rents, the consequence is that you will have fewer houses. I make this intervention at the end of this debate just to put it in a slightly broader context.

My Lords, I have two amendments in my name that I wish to speak to briefly. However, prior to that, I say that my noble friend Lord Stunell made an important point about how all the amendments here are trying to resolve the issue of what is affordable. So-called affordable homes are those built by the commercial sector as part of a development—a planning obligation—yet the challenge for us all is to provide homes at a social rent, which is roughly estimated as 50% of the market rent.

It is a tragedy for this country that successive Governments seem to have abandoned provision of homes for social rent in any large numbers. Local authorities have been severely constrained in building their own social housing, and the provision of homes for social rent has largely been left to housing associations. We then come to the conundrum which the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, just rightly pointed to—that the capital that housing associations receive from government depends on their flow of rental income. Therefore, do you have more or less? Either way, everybody agrees that there are insufficient homes for social rent.

About 30 years ago, my authority had 42,000 council houses at social rent—it now has 21,000. That is the scale of what has happened. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Stunell is absolutely right that about half of them are now back in the market as private rented properties at a higher rent for folk but without any of the support packages provided for homes for social housing rent within either a local authority or a housing association. That is a huge challenge that this country needs to tackle. One of the key factors in levelling up is a decent home—it is in the levelling-up missions. Millions of people in our country do not live in an adequate, safe home appropriate for their family, and we need to address that scandal.

On affordability, my noble friend Lord Stunell expertly laid out the issues, and I do not wish to say anything, except that obviously I totally support him. I wish to raise one issue about affordability that is a bit of a side issue. It seems that any property built as part of a commercial development which is deemed affordable should be affordable in perpetuity. My own council adopted that policy—I have to say as a result of pressure from my own party there—so that, when the house is bought, the 80% factor remains. The least the Government could do is to include that as part of a definition of affordability.

I just point to the two amendments in my name, the first being Amendment 286, about the future homes standard. I am an optimist. June 2023 is in the amendment to adopt it, but I doubt whether this Bill will have reached anything like the end of its route by then. The idea is that, if you can incorporate the future homes standard, which is about changing building regulations so that new homes are built to a much higher standard of insulation and improved heating and hot water systems, it would mean that developers would have to start recognising it, and not try to get away with it. Unless we adopt it now, it will be at least five or seven years before those properties are built. That was the purpose of that amendment—and to define affordability in a local context. Where I live in West Yorkshire, you can still buy a house for £150,000. You probably could not buy a garden shed for that in London. There is a wide range of house pricing and housing rents, and local authorities ought to be able, as part of their understanding of their local area, to define that.

Lastly, I reference Amendment 262, about national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, raised them, and I agree with what she said. If we are to retain the landscape value, which is the purpose of these definitions, we must enable local people to have homes that they can afford—hence the amendment in my name. With that, I look forward to what the Minister has to say on this very important debate.

My Lords, before we conclude this group, I start by saying that I do not know how any Government with a social conscience could listen to our debate for the last couple of hours without feeling an urgent desire to scrap the right to buy.

I support Amendment 438 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, concerning the sale of higher-value council residential properties. We must not forget that a lot of them are very old, they may have a lot of bedrooms, and they may be under-occupied, as we understand it, and very expensive to maintain—all good reasons for selling them. But we have a chronic shortage of housing. We all know that; we have heard it repeatedly today. If you geometrically increase that to the chronic shortage of social housing, or affordable housing, it is a crisis. The proceeds of all council residential property sales should be reinvested into social housing and affordable housing. They are not, as we have heard again and again. The failure to replace the units lost by the right to buy—the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, referred to it very eloquently—is a disgrace.

The private developers, who build large numbers of residential units for private sale are under an obligation to provide an allocation under the Section 106 agreements for affordable housing, but this is abused by developers—everyone in the industry knows that. The affordable housing obligation is subject to something called a financial viability appraisal. The bigger developers are frequently huge, multi-million-pound public companies; they have the resources, expertise and firepower to employ legal advisers at the highest and most expensive level to provide the financial viability assessment that suits their purposes. There is no possibility of local authorities being able to take on this challenge, partly because they would have to do it so frequently, and partly because they are short of funds in the first place and hardly able to challenge planning applications even on a private level from time to time. I am afraid that there is very little likelihood of the numbers of social or affordable housing being increased in the short-term. I conclude that—

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree that a compounding factor is that the calculations of viability studies are kept secret and that, if they were more transparently available, some of the abuse that he quite rightly refers to would be reduced?

I thank the noble Lord for his comment. I agree entirely with what he says. Without being able to challenge line-by-line a financial viability appraisal, it becomes an impossible task. A lot of the elements of financial appraisals are subjective, and value is therefore very much in the eye of the beholder. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord’s comment. However, until developers are required to provide sufficient social housing, together with the contribution from government sources, I unconditionally support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham for his explanation of the difficult decisions that social landlords must navigate through with the competing requirements on their rental amounts. That is really important; it is not just about building other properties—there are many other pressures that we continue to put upon them.

Amendment 241A, and Amendments 242 and 242ZA, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, relate to the definition of affordable housing. It is right to raise the importance of ensuring that affordable housing meets the needs of those who require it. Before addressing the amendments specifically, I assure noble Lords that the Government recognise the need to increase the supply of the most affordable type of affordable housing—that is to say, let at social rent. That is reflected in our commitment in the levelling-up White Paper to increasing the amount of social housing available over time to provide the most affordable housing for those who need it. A large number of new houses to be delivered through our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme will be for social rent.

The consultation that we published before Christmas on the NPPF also recognised the need for more social rent homes. Subject to the outcome of that consultation, we are proposing to make changes to the NPPF to make it clear that local planning authorities should give greater importance in planning to social rent homes when addressing their overall housing requirements in their development plans and making planning decisions. However, we also recognise that local authorities need flexibility to deliver exactly what is needed in their area, and this may vary depending on local circumstances. We want to ensure that, when there is innovation in models for the delivery of much-needed housing to meet the needs of those who require it, we can flex the system to incorporate such innovation.

So, we are aiming for a “Goldilocks zone”. If we define affordable housing too strictly either within the Bill or the NPPF, we risk stripping local authorities of their flexibility to decide what is appropriate in their area. But, if we leave the definition of affordable housing entirely to local authorities, we risk losing the levers to drive important government ambitions, including those relating to the increased delivery of social rent. That is why we are keen to maintain the existing approach, in which the Government set the direction through policy and regulation, while also allowing space for local authorities to shape this approach to best meet local need.

It is for that reason that I am concerned that Amendments 241A, 242 and 242ZA, which are all concerned with linking the definition of affordable housing to a specific measure of income, would be too restrictive. In the National Planning Policy Framework, affordable housing is described as housing for sale or rent to those whose needs are not met by the market and which complies with one or more specific definitions. Those specific definitions encompass several different types of accommodation, to meet the housing needs of a range of people in different circumstances and housing markets.

This includes affordable rent as well as social rent homes. Affordable rent was introduced in 2011 to make it possible to deliver a larger number of affordable homes for a given amount of public investment. This has helped to support the delivery of over 632,600 affordable homes since 2010. Of that total, more than 440,000 were homes for rent and, of these, more than 162,000 were for social rent.

The definition in the National Planning Policy Framework, to be read alongside relevant Written Ministerial Statements and guidance, also encompasses a range of options, including shared ownership and First Homes, that offer routes into home ownership for households whose needs are not met by the market. These options are typically available at a price below market value. Eligibility can also be assessed in relation to overall household income, or in reference to local incomes and house prices.

In relation to shared ownership specifically, the Government understand the need to maximise the scheme’s affordability both at the initial point of purchase and over the longer term. That is why shared ownership is specifically designed to enable prospective buyers to purchase the right percentage share of their home for them, based on an affordability assessment conducted by an independent financial adviser. By linking shared ownership status as a form of affordable housing to a specific measure of income, we would be removing this much-needed flexibility to tailor the scheme to the individual circumstances of prospective buyers.

In relation to compulsory purchase orders and the community infrastructure levy—and its replacement, the infrastructure levy—the definition of affordable housing is linked to the definition of social housing in the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. This definition encompasses both “low-cost rental accommodation” and “low-cost home ownership accommodation”. There is flexibility to add other descriptions of housing via regulations.

This ensures that regulations can then be amended so that definitions for the purposes of the community infrastructure fund can also be updated. This approach has been maintained in the Bill for those areas which touch on developer contributions: the infrastructure levy, street votes and community land auctions.

It is right to preserve this flexibility, alongside our proposal that national planning policy should place much greater value on homes for social rent. I therefore hope that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, will not press their amendments.

I turn next to Amendments 262 and 500 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Taylor of Stevenage. These amendments seek to enable local authorities to mandate that new housing under their jurisdiction be affordable; to define “affordable” for that purpose; and to enable Ministers to set legally binding targets for the construction of social housing.

While I entirely understand the sentiment behind these amendments, the proposed approach would be counterproductive. Local authorities are already empowered to set policies in their local plan that require developers to deliver a defined amount of affordable housing on market housing sites unless exceptions apply. These policies are able to take into account local circumstances in setting the appropriate minimum amount of affordable housing, which will vary across the country.

Under the infrastructure levy, we will introduce a new right to require through regulations, in which local authorities can require that a certain proportion of the levy be delivered as on-site affordable housing. For rural areas, policies are already in place such as our rural exception sites policy, which helps to bring forward much-needed affordable housing in such areas. We went further in 2020 by publishing planning practice guidance, which should help bring forward more of these sites in future.

The revenue from market housing is vital for delivering affordable housing and other vital infrastructure, with 26,000 affordable homes delivered through developer contributions in 2021-22. In addition, our new infrastructure levy will be able to deliver as much on-site affordable housing as at present, if not more. A top-down legislative requirement would fail to allow for the nuances of local circumstances to be taken into consideration and would, in any case, not be an appropriate way to incentivise the construction of affordable housing.

Finally, the approach suggested in Amendment 262 could undermine the autonomy that national parks rightfully possess as local planning authorities. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, I would say at this point that the issues of Airbnb and second homes were brought up by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, earlier this week and I am getting a response on that.

On Amendment 286, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I will take subsections (1) and (2) of the proposed new clause first. The 2025 timeline delivers on our net-zero commitments while making sure that the construction sector has sufficient time to deliver the skills and supply chains for a significant change in the way we build houses. We have already accelerated our work on a full technical consultation for the future homes standard. We will consult in spring 2023 and legislate in 2024, ahead of the standard coming into force in 2025. We are not, however, waiting until then to take action. We introduced an uplift in standards, which came into force in June 2022. The uplift delivers a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions as a stepping stone to the future homes standard. Regarding the role of local authorities, all levels of government have a role to play in meeting our net-zero targets. Plan makers already have the power to set energy efficiency standards at local level which go beyond the national standards if they wish.

Turning to subsections (3) and (4) of the proposed new clause, taken together this part of the amendment would enable local authorities to mandate that new housing under their jurisdiction be affordable and defines “affordable” for that purpose. While again I entirely understand the sentiment behind the amendment, the proposed approach would be counterproductive. As I said, local authorities are already empowered to set policies in their local plans that require developers to deliver a defined amount of affordable housing on market housing sites unless exceptions apply. These policies are able to take into account local circumstances in setting the appropriate minimum amount of affordable housing, which will vary across the country. Under the infrastructure levy, as I said, we will introduce the new right to require through regulation, in which local authorities can require that a certain proportion of the levy be delivered as on-site affordable housing.

The Minister is being extremely thorough. She has emphasised very much that she does not want to constrain local authorities exercising their decisions as is appropriate for their area. Can she give us some assurance that when the NDMPs and the revised NPPF are published that we will not find that they are being constrained via a different route?

I cannot give that assurance because we have not yet published them, but from everything I know of where the Bill is going with planning, we are encouraging local authorities to make those local decisions within the national framework, and I do not expect any further constraints on local authorities in that regard.

This is probably the right time to also bring up the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, raised about transparency and viability. We agree with many of the criticisms of the misuse of viability assessments. That is why we are introducing the infrastructure levy, which removes the need for viability assessments as part of the planning permission process. If we take it out of the process, I hope we will not have this argument in the beginning. I have had many arguments over viability in the past. If we take it out of the system, I hope that will stop in future.

Moving to Amendment 438, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, I understand why he has put forward his amendments. While I appreciate totally the sentiment behind them, we do not believe this would be the correct legislative vehicle for this policy. The Government have provided public assurances that they will not require local authorities to make a payment in respect of their vacant higher value council homes in the social housing Green Paper and stand by that commitment. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill does not address the topic of social housing, and the Government do not wish further to complicate such a complex set of legislative measures. However, the Government remain committed to legislating on this issue at an appropriate time in the future. I can provide assurances at the Dispatch Box to the noble Lord that the provisions laid out in Chapter 2 of Part 4 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 have not been brought into effect and this Government have no intention of doing so. The provisions lack a regulatory framework to underpin the policy, and therefore there is no risk of local authorities being subject to them before we are able to legislate in the future. I hope this reassures the noble Lord that the Government remain committed to the decisions set out in the social housing Green Paper and that provisions will be made in future for this revocation to be issued. I hope the noble Lord will feel able not to move the amendment.

I am grateful to noble Lords for such an interesting debate on a crucial topic central to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. As a result of the discussions we have had, the National Housing Federation’s figure for people in need of social housing is now 3.8 million—that is 1.6 million households. That is around 500,000 more households than the 1.16 million that are on official waiting lists. We all know the reasons for that: not everybody who is in need of housing will necessarily want to spend the next 20 years on a housing waiting list. In so many areas it is impossible to see people ever being housed as a result of those housing lists.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for his important comments, particularly about us needing to understand what genuinely affordable housing means. It certainly does not mean the definition that is used in planning at the moment. I agree with his comment that we are under an illusion that housing built under the “affordable homes” category will resolve the housing crisis—it will not. I totally support his comments about unfreezing local housing allowance levels, which would be an important step. Over many decades, we have seen sticking-plaster approaches to tackling the housing situation in this country, which consequently continues to deteriorate.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, rightly said that all of the amendments in this group are aimed at the same destination. Neither in renting nor in homes for sale does “affordability” mean what it says on the tin. We are all trying to make sure that we do what we can in the Bill to change that to some extent.

It is misleading to say that the Help to Buy schemes, which the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, mentioned, will tackle the issue for those most in need of housing. Taking a little risk, I will mention a conversation I had with a former Conservative Minister, who said, “I don’t know why you keep banging on about social housing, Sharon. Everyone can afford to buy a house under our Help to Buy scheme”. That is clearly not the case. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, quoted his noble friend who said that, in Southwold, the affordability ratio is 17:1, and 13:1 after a 20% discount. That is the case in quite a lot of the country, although not everywhere.

More than 50% of social homes have been transferred into the private rented sector, which is a great grievance to those of us who deal with the impact of that. Where that rent is paid by universal credit or other benefits, instead of DWP paying—I shall use the figures I quoted earlier—£110 a week rent for those properties, the public purse now pays £235 a week for them. That does not make any sense at all, so we need to do all we can to address this situation.

As ever, I was pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Best, about his amendment. I thank him for reminding us about the Affordable Housing Commission report, which is very good and we all need to take account of it. I am afraid I found the Minister’s comments on the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Best, a bit disappointing. None of us, including the Government, want this measure. The noble Lord, Lord Best, called it an “obnoxious” and “offensive” legislative provision, which it is. He pointed out that it has hung over local government since 2016. We could use this legislation to get rid of it. Why do we not do that? Under that legislation, local authorities were expected to raise the rent to market levels where tenants improved their financial situation. When that happened, it greatly concerned me that this would not benefit local communities or our housing stock but would tip into the bottomless bucket in the Treasury. It is time that that provision was scrapped. I absolutely support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Best, about local decisions being taken on right-to-buy discounts. That measure is way past time, and we should absolutely have it.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, spoke about unfreezing local housing allowance, which I agree with. He also mentioned discretionary housing payments. In many local authorities, the allocated amount of discretionary housing payment runs out in Quarter 1, and then various bodies, including government advisory bodies and Citizens Advice, often send tenants to their councils to request discretionary housing payment, when in fact it has run out in the first three months of the year. That is simply because of the cost of living crisis and the level of rents that are putting so much pressure on those discretionary housing payments.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, also rightly raised the issue that we are often faced with the difficult choice of low rents or increasing rents and having enough funding to provide new builds. I support that, but there are other ways of doing this. The Government have provided some funding for new housing, but local authorities and other public sector bodies can also 3be creative about the way they use their land and property to deliver social housing and use their assets to contribute to resolving the housing crisis. For example, there can be mixed developments where the authority uses the surplus from private sales to fund the social housing on those developments. In my own borough, we had closed-down pubs and we did a land swap with a doctors’ surgery, so the doctors got a new surgery and we got a housing site. We also used a low-demand garage block to build specialised housing for street homeless people. There are solutions, but he is right that we have to get round this point that you either have high rents or you do not have any new build. That requires government intervention, and we need to think about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, said that he did not know how anyone could listen to this debate without wanting to scrap right to buy. I have to approach this cautiously, but I am very sympathetic to that point. He also spoke about affordable housing being abused by developers on the often spurious grounds of viability. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, mentioned that these calculations are still allowed to be kept secret and they absolutely should not be. Communities should know why developers are saying that they cannot put affordable housing in their developments.

As ever, I was grateful to the Minister for her very detailed response on the debate. However, to defend the status quo, which is how her comments could be interpreted, is very difficult in the circumstances of the housing situation that many people in our communities face. I think there is an increasing burden on the rental income stream and the Minister is correct to say that. The regulatory burden is not helping. I completely understand why the Government are increasing the regulatory burden, but this puts additional pressure, which is not covered, as I understand it, by new-burdens regulations.

It has been a very good discussion on all these housing points. I will withdraw the amendment for now, but I hope the Minister recognises the strength of feeling in your Lordships’ House on some of these issues. This means we will want to come back to this on Report. I think we may want to push for Report stage not to be held until we have the benefit of detail. We keep being told that these things are going to be in the NPPF and the NDMPs, so it may be that we want to consider whether Report stage should be before we have sight of those documents. But, for the moment, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 241A withdrawn.

Clause 94 agreed.

Amendments 242 and 242ZA not moved.

Schedule 8: Minor and consequential amendments in connection with Chapter 2 of Part 3

Amendments 242A to 242H

Moved by

242A: Schedule 8, page 327, line 9, at end insert—

“Local Government Act 1972

A1 In section 138C of the Local Government Act 1972 (application of sections 138A and 138B to other authorities), in subsections (1)(s) and (2)(c), for “an order under section 29” substitute “regulations made under section 15J”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts an amendment to the Local Government Act 1972 which is consequential upon Schedule 7 to the Bill.

242B: Schedule 8, page 327, line 11, at end insert—

“1A In section 2A (the Mayor of London: applications of potential strategic importance), in subsection (6)(aa), for “development plan document” substitute “local plan, document which is or forms part of a minerals and waste plan or supplementary plan”.1B In section 59A (development orders: permission in principle)—(a) in paragraph (b) of subsection (3)—(i) for “development plan document” substitute “local plan or supplementary plan”;(ii) for “section 37” substitute “section 15LH”;(b) after that paragraph insert—“(ba) a document which is, or forms part of, a minerals and waste plan within the meaning of Part 2 of the 2004 Act (“a minerals and waste plan document”);”(c) in subsection (5)(b), for “development plan document” substitute “local plan, minerals and waste plan document or supplementary plan”.1C In section 70(4) (determination of applications: definitions), in paragraph (l) of the definition of “relevant authority”, for “section 29” substitute “section 15J”. 1D In section 74 (directions etc as to method of dealing with applications), in subsection (1BB) for “development plan document” substitute “local plan, document which is or forms part of a minerals and waste plan or supplementary plan”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts amendments to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which are consequential upon Schedule 7 to the Bill.

242C: Schedule 8, page 328, line 6, at end insert—

“2A In section 306 (contributions by local authorities and statutory undertakers), in subsection (2)(ab)—(a) after “by a” insert “minerals and waste planning authority or”;(b) after “duty of” insert “minerals and waste planning authority or”.2B In section 324 (rights of entry), in subsection (1)(a), for “local development document” substitute “local plan, document which is or forms part of a minerals and waste plan or supplementary plan”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts amendments to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which are consequential upon Schedule 7 to the Bill.

242D: Schedule 8, page 328, line 10, at end insert—

“3A “(1) Schedule 1 (local planning authorities: distribution of functions) is amended as follows.(2) In paragraph 7, for sub-paragraph (10) substitute—“(10) A relevant county policy is a policy contained in a relevant document, plan or revision which—(a) has been submitted for independent examination under Part 2 of the 2004 Act and has not been withdrawn, or(b) has been adopted, approved or made for the purposes of that Part.(10A) In sub-paragraph (10)—(a) a “relevant document, plan or revision” means—(i) a document prepared to be, or to form part of, the county planning authority’s minerals and waste plan for the purposes of Part 2 of the 2004 Act,(ii) a revision of a document which is, or forms part of, the county planning authority’s minerals and waste plan for the purposes of that Part,(iii) a supplementary plan prepared by the county planning authority acting as a minerals and waste planning authority under that Part, or(iv) a revision of a such a supplementary plan;(b) the reference to submission of a relevant document, plan or revision for independent examination under Part 2 of the 2004 Act is to be taken to include any case where an independent examination is held under that Part.”(3) In paragraph 8(3E), in paragraph (b) of the definition of “relevant neighbourhood development plan”, for “(3)” substitute “(2A)”.(4) In paragraph 8A(2), in paragraph (b) of the definition of “relevant neighbourhood development plan”, for “(3)” substitute “(2A)”.3B In Schedule 13 (blighted land), in paragraph 1A—(a) for “development plan document”, in the first place it appears, substitute “local plan, minerals and waste plan or supplementary plan”;(b) for Note (2) substitute—“(2) For the purposes of this paragraph a local plan is a local plan, or revision of such a plan, which— (a) has been submitted for independent examination under Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (in this paragraph, “the 2004 Act”) and has not been withdrawn, or(b) has been adopted, approved or made for the purposes of that Part.(2ZA) For the purposes of this paragraph a minerals and waste plan is a document prepared to be or to form part of a minerals and waste plan, or a revision of such a document, which—(a) has been submitted for independent examination under Part 2 of the 2004 Act and has not been withdrawn, or(b) has been adopted, approved or made for the purposes of that Part.(2ZB) For the purposes of this paragraph a supplementary plan is a supplementary plan, or a revision of such a plan, which—(a) has been submitted for independent examination under Part 2 of the 2004 Act and has not been withdrawn, or(b) has been adopted, approved or made for the purposes of that Part.”;(c) omit Note (3);(d) for Note (4) substitute—“(4) In Notes (2) to (2ZB) the references to submission of a local plan, a supplementary plan, a document or a revision for independent examination under Part 2 of the 2004 Act are to be taken to include any case where an independent examination is held under that Part.””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts amendments to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which are consequential upon Schedule 7 to the Bill.

242E: Schedule 8, page 328, line 11, at end insert—

“3A GLAA 1999 is amended as follows.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential upon the sixth amendment in the Minister’s name to Schedule 8 to the Bill.

242F: Schedule 8, page 328, line 12, leave out “of GLAA 1999”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential upon the seventh amendment in the Minister’s name to Schedule 8 to the Bill.

242G: Schedule 8, page 328, line 13, at end insert—

“4A In section 346 (monitoring and data collection), in paragraph (b), for “local development documents” substitute “local plan, any document which is or forms part of a minerals and waste plan and any supplementary plans”.4B In section 347 (functional bodies to have regard to strategy)—(a) for “section 24” substitute “sections 15CA(2) and 15CC(7)”;(b) for “requires certain of a Mayoral development corporation’s documents” substitute “require local plans, minerals and waste plans and supplementary plans”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts amendments to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 which are consequential upon Schedule 7 to the Bill.

242H: Schedule 8, page 335, line 36, at end insert—

“Commons Act 2006

15 In Schedule 1A to the Commons Act 2006 (exclusion of right under section 15 of that Act (registration of greens): England), in the Table—(a) in paragraph 3 of the first column—(i) for “development plan document” substitute “local plan, a document which is to be or to form part of a minerals and waste plan or a supplementary plan”;(ii) for “section 17(7)” substitute “section 15LE(2)(g)”;(b) in paragraph (a) of the entry in the second column corresponding to paragraph 3—(i) after “The” insert “plan or”;(ii) for “under section 22(1) of the 2004 Act” substitute “under—(i) in the case of a local plan, section 15E of the 2004 Act;(ii) in the case of a document which is to be or to form part of a minerals and waste plan, section 15E of that Act (as applied by section 15CB(7) of that Act);(iii) in the case of a supplementary plan, regulations made under section 15CC(11) of that Act.”(c) for paragraph (b) of the entry in the second column corresponding to paragraph 3 substitute—“(b) The plan or document is adopted or approved under Part 2 of that Act (but see paragraph 4 of this Table).”;(d) in paragraph (c) of the entry in the second column corresponding to paragraph 3, after “which the” insert “plan or”;(e) for paragraph 4 of the first column substitute—“4 A local plan, a document which is or forms part of a minerals and waste plan or a supplementary plan, which identifies the land for potential development, is adopted or approved under Part 2 of the 2004 Act.”;(f) in paragraph (a) of the entry in the second column corresponding to paragraph 4—(i) after “The” insert “plan or”;(ii) for “section 25 of the 2004 Act” substitute “section 15G of the 2004 Act (including as applied by section 15CB(7) of that Act, in the case of a minerals and waste plan)”;(g) in paragraph (b) of the entry in the second column corresponding to paragraph 4, after “in the” insert “plan or”.Planning and Energy Act 2008

16 The Planning and Energy Act 2008 is amended as follows.17 (1) Section 1 (energy policies) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1), for “development plan documents,” substitute “local plan and any supplementary plan, a minerals and waste planning authority may in their minerals and waste plan and any supplementary plan,”.(3) After that subsection insert—“(1ZA) In relation to the minerals and waste plan or supplementary plan of a minerals and waste planning authority, references in subsection (1) to development in their area are to minerals and waste development in the relevant area.”(4) In subsection (4)—(a) in paragraph (a), for “section 19” substitute “sections 15C, 15CA and 15CC”;(b) after that paragraph insert—“(aza) sections 15CB and 15CC of that Act, in the case of a minerals and waste planning authority;” (5) In subsection (5), for “development plan documents” substitute “a local plan, a minerals and waste plan or a supplementary plan”.18 In section 2 (interpretation), for the definition of “development plan document” substitute—““local plan” , “minerals and waste development”, “minerals and waste plan”, “minerals and waste planning authority”, “relevant area” and “supplementary plan” have the same meaning as in Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (see, in particular, section 15LH of that Act);”Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009

19 (1) Schedule 6 to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (marine plans: preparation and adoption) is amended as follows.(2) In paragraph 1—(a) in sub-paragraph (2), after paragraph (d) insert—“(da) any minerals and waste planning authority whose relevant area adjoins or is adjacent to the marine plan area;”;(b) in sub-paragraph (3)—(i) in paragraph (a) of the definition of “local planning authority”, for “section 37” substitute “section 15LF”;(ii) after that definition insert—““minerals and waste planning authority” means an authority which is a minerals and waste planning authority for the purposes of Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (see section 15LG of that Act) and “relevant area” has the meaning given by that section.”(3) In paragraph 3(6), in paragraph (a) of the definition of “development plan”, for “section 38(2) to (4)” substitute “section 38(2A) to (4)”.Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (S.I. 2011/988)

20 In regulation 16(3) of the Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011 (general interpretation: meaning of planning authority), for sub-paragraph (b) substitute—“(ba) a local planning authority or minerals and waste planning authority for the purposes of Part 2 of the 2004 Act;”.Housing and Planning Act 2016

21 The Housing and Planning Act 2016 is amended as follows.22 In section 6 (starter homes: monitoring), in subsection (2), omit paragraph (c).23 In section 7 (starter homes: compliance directions), in subsection (1)(b) for “local development document” substitute “local plan, document which is or forms part of a minerals and waste plan or supplementary plan”.24 In section 8 (starter homes: interpretation), for the definition of “local development document” substitute—““local plan” , “minerals and waste plan” and “supplementary plan” have the same meaning as in Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (see, in particular, section 15LH of that Act);”Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (S.I. 2017/1012)

25 The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 are amended as follows.26 (1) Regulation 41 (nature conservation policy in planning contexts) is amended as follows.(2) In paragraph (1), after “of land” insert “or minerals and waste development”. (3) In paragraph (2)(a)(i)—(a) for “section 17(3)” substitute “sections 15C(3) and (4) and 15CC(3)”;(b) for “local development documents” substitute “local plans and supplementary plans made by local planning authorities”.(4) Omit the “and” at the end of paragraph (2)(a)(ii).(5) After paragraph (2)(a) insert—“(aa) in relation to minerals and waste development, sections 15CB(2) and (3) and 15CC(5) of that Act; and”27 (1) Regulation 108 (co-ordination for land use plan prepared by more than one authority) is amended as follows.(2) In paragraph (1), for the words from “prepare” to the end substitute “prepare a relevant joint plan”.(3) In paragraph (2), for “joint local development document or plan” substitute “relevant joint plan”.(4) In paragraph (3), for “joint local planning document or plan” substitute “relevant joint plan”.(5) In paragraph (5), for “joint local development document or plan” substitute “relevant joint plan”.(6) After that paragraph insert—“(6) In this regulation “relevant joint plan” means—(a) a joint spatial development strategy, joint local plan or joint supplementary plan (within the meaning of Part 2 of the 2004 Planning Act),(b) a document which is or forms part of a joint minerals and waste plan under sections 15I and 15IA of that Act (as applied by section 15CB(7) of that Act), or(c) a joint local development plan under section 72 of that Act.”28 (1) Regulation 111 (interpretation of Chapter 8 of Part 6) is amended as follows.(2) In paragraph (1)—(a) in paragraph (b) of the definition of “land use plan”—(i) for “local development document as provided for in” substitute “joint spatial development strategy, local plan, document which is or forms part of a minerals and waste plan, supplementary plan or any revision of such a plan or document under”;(ii) omit the words from “other” to the end;(b) in paragraph (a) of the definition of “plan-making authority”, after “replacement)” insert “or section 15CC of the 2004 Planning Act (supplementary plans)”;(c) in paragraph (b) of the definition of “plan-making authority” omit “or an order under section 29(2) of the 2004 Planning Act (joint committees)”;(d) after that paragraph insert—“(ba) a local planning authority or minerals and waste planning authority for the purposes of Part 2 of the 2004 Planning Act;”;(e) in paragraph (c) of the definition of “plan-making authority”, omit sub-paragraph (i);(f) after that paragraph insert—“(ca) anyone exercising powers under section 15H, 15HA or 15HB of, or Schedule A1 to, the 2004 Planning Act;”(3) In paragraph (2)—(a) for sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) substitute— “(aa) the adoption of a joint spatial development strategy under section 15AD of the 2004 Planning Act or of an alteration of such a strategy under section 15AF of that Act;(ab) the adoption or approval of a local plan, document which is or forms part of a minerals and waste plan, supplementary plan or a revision of any such document or plan under Part 2 of the 2004 Planning Act;”;(b) in sub-paragraph (c) for “publication” substitute “adoption”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment inserts amendments to various enactments which are consequential upon Schedule 7 to the Bill.

Amendments 242A to 242H agreed.

Amendment 242I not moved.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed.

Sitting suspended.

Clause 95: Regard to certain heritage assets in exercise of planning functions

Amendment 243

Moved by

243: Clause 95, page 102, line 35, at end insert—

“(5) The Secretary of State must, within one year of the day on which this section comes into force, publish a report of a review of the efficacy of Local Heritage Lists and the resources local authorities have to produce them.(6) The Secretary of State must, on the day on which this section comes into force, publish the results of the 2018 review of the non-statutory guidance on Assets of Community Value.”Member's explanatory statement

This means that the Secretary of State must publish a report of a review of Local Heritage Lists and the results of the 2018 review of the non-statutory guidance on Assets of Community Value.

My Lords, Amendment 243 is in the name of my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage. Amendments 244 and 246 in this group are both also in her name. I shall briefly speak to them and make some comments on some of the other amendments in this group.

My noble friend’s Amendment 243 asks the Secretary of State to

“publish a report of a review of Local Heritage Lists and the results of the 2018 review of the non-statutory guidance on Assets of Community Value”.

Amendment 246 also refers to assets of community value—ACVs—asking for draft legislation to be published to reform the processes.

Amendment 244, which is on a slightly separate issue, is about decision-making on temporary stop notices. The amendment says that, when making a decision on the correct recipient of a temporary stop notice, the authority should have regard to the tenancy status of the occupier and their level of responsibility for any works on the property. It is pretty straightforward as to why we have laid this amendment, so I shall be brief. We believe it is really important to guard against a situation where the wrong person may be held accountable for works on a property for which they actually have no responsibility whatever. The Local Government Association was very clear that we should make this point during the debate on the Bill. We believe that other factors should be taken into account before any notice is issued, because we really need to make sure that the correct person—the person liable—is the person that has been identified. It would be very helpful if the Minister could provide some information on how the Government can ensure, in future, that this is what happens, so that we do not end up with people with no responsibility suddenly having a lot of problems with sorting out works on the property in which they are living but for which they do not have responsibility.

We have laid the amendments on the assets of community value because they are very important. We believe that communities should play a key role in both the preservation and the delivery of local assets that sit outside of local authority control. We know that the Localism Act 2011 contains important powers for local communities to be able to do just this, but the problem is that there are issues around how it works. Under current rules, buildings or pieces of land which are, or have been, used to

“further the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community and could do so in the future”

can be nominated to be classified as an ACV by community groups or councils. But if an ACV goes up for sale, a local group that can make a decision as to whether it wants to bid for this is given only six months to gauge whether it is able to bid for it—and it is only during that six-month period that the owner is unable to sell it. After that six-month grace period elapses, they can sell assets of community value to anybody they want to. A report compiled by the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee in Parliament suggested that the six-month grace period was too short and that it would sideline groups in more disadvantaged communities from being able to make bids. We believe that this needs to be changed.

The Labour Party has proposed extending the time frame to 12 months. We believe that local people from every community—not just those who are wealthy and have the resources to put their bids together very quickly—should have the opportunity to take control of, possibly, pubs, historic buildings or, perhaps, football clubs that come up for sale and would otherwise just fall into disrepair. We also believe that they should have first refusal on valuable assets when they come up for sale, including the right to buy them without competition. They should also have the right to force a sale of land or buildings that have been left to fall into a state of significant disrepair. If these processes were reformed to allow and encourage every community to take advantage of it, it would do so much more for the large number of communities that are currently threatened with losing community assets but do not have the ability to put together bids to take them under community control. I urge the Minister to look carefully at how this could be improved for the benefit of all communities.

I would like to make a few comments on Amendment 245, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, about the results of the Historic England pilot on compensation rights. This comes under Clause 98 of the Bill, which seeks to remove compensation when a local authority has wrongly served a building preservation notice which, when it was served, prevented any additional work from progressing. We have been talking to the CLA about this, and it disagrees that this is the right way forward, as not only are there significant property rights implications but it also removes an important check on local authorities that wrongly serve building preservation notices. This can cause huge disruption and costs for the owners. We believe that compensation is key to the protection of individuals’ rights. Moreover, the many compensation provisions across the planning system are a vital part of its fairness. If mistakes happen and people suffer loss then, surely, they should be compensated. I shall not talk any further on this because I am sure that the noble Earl will go into great detail, but we appreciate his amendment. It is an important area that needs to be looked at.

My noble friend Lady Andrews has also put down some important amendments on the demolition of buildings, development rights, reduction of carbon emissions and the importance of local communities’ abilities to shape local places. Currently, most buildings can be demolished without planning permission if they are not listed and not in a conservation area. These permitted development rights for demolition have already been removed for buildings such as pubs and theatres, but there is no requirement for the buildings to be run down or beyond repair for this right to apply. We have had some very helpful briefings from the Victorian Society about its concerns on these issues, and we consider that my noble friend’s amendments are very important. I hope that the Minister can support them. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 245—a probing amendment—in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Devon. Unfortunately, my noble friend cannot be here today due to other pressing matters. I must first declare my ownership of two listed buildings and the occupation of a third. I have also acted professionally as a chartered surveyor who has surveyed many listed and unlisted buildings and structures where works were proposed. I am very grateful for the support and input of the CLA, of which I am a member, and of Historic Houses and the Listed Property Owners Club. I am particularly grateful for, as it were, an introduction by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. It was rather unexpected, because I did not think that it would necessarily be a matter that her party would relate to in those terms.

I acknowledge the importance to the nation of protecting its heritage. When the listing of buildings first came about in, I think, the 1950s, it carried with it an obligation to seek consent for works that affected the character of a listed building. It was not originally the case that effects on character meant that every alteration required consent. However, over the years, because the citations for listing and the descriptions of the matters of importance were, to put it bluntly, minimalist, that is how it has come to be operated. It has now almost become the norm for common periodic maintenance and repair to be caught by a demand for formal consent—things which, for any other unlisted building or structure, can be done without any formality.

A listed building application is not a particularly simple science: it requires a formal submission with drawings, sample materials and so on. Statements of heritage impact incur no small measure of cost, not to mention frequent inordinate delays in getting a determination. I speak from professional experience on that. I acknowledge, though, that there is no fee for making a listed building application—thankfully, in the context of what I have just explained. The idea persisted, however, that flexibility for public administrative purposes justified the appropriation to the public interest of overriding control of historic environments and, further, that this was more important than clarity for owners—or planners. However, I acknowledge that, in many instances, historic buildings, features and environments that would otherwise have been lost have been preserved by the building listing process, while unprotected ones have been lost.

What constitutes the legitimate public interest in this matter is something of constant evolution; it may be contextual, whereby legal constructs, such as curtilage, setting, attachment of artefacts and so on must be weighed up with important associations, past occupiers and events. If we overlay on to this the fact that nearly every listed building or structure of any significant age, including some parks and gardens, has undergone changes due to the inconsistently sympathetic or unsympathetic actions of successive owners and that, in a majority of cases, the listing process fails to capture the construction and management history of the item in question, it is easy to see the outcome.

Moreover, I must say that, in my experience, the competence of personnel typically involved in some public sector determination of historic building attributes is often as patchy as their affordability to local government. I know of local authorities that do not have their own in-house people; the in-house people were, in my view, the salt of the earth, but they do not have them any more. They outsource so many days a month to an external contractor, who comes in and out and may not have any detailed understanding of vernacular features.

I come to the point of Amendment 245. When an owner acts in good faith with a building that they know is not listed and not in a conservation area and sets about carrying out works that they would be entitled to do under the prevailing laws—and, it should be said, possibly under a permitted development—it matters if, unexpectedly, the authority decides to stop works on the grounds of a previously undisclosed, unrecorded and formally unnotified, but deemed priority, cultural interest by serving a building preservation notice, thus bringing works to a halt for six months.

This may sound like a bit of semantics, but I will mention it anyway. The “Listed Buildings Act” referred to in Clause 98 of the Bill is, I understand, shorthand for the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. Perhaps, at some stage, that could be corrected.

Under the current rules in Section 29 of that Act—I am not going to go into this in extensive detail—there is a provision for:

“Compensation for loss or damage caused by service of building preservation notice”.

It applies

“where a building preservation notice”

has been served and

“ceases to have effect without the building having been included in a list”

of protected buildings. One might say that this has the potentially perverse effect that, rather than getting yourself into trouble by not including it on a list, you include on the list all sorts of things that are perhaps of dubious merit. But I leave that to one side. It goes on to say that an owner who is affected by this in such a way is

“entitled to be paid compensation by the local planning authority in respect of any loss or damage directly attributable to the effect of the notice”.

Then it describes how the loss and damage might be payable, including

“a sum payable in respect of any breach of contract”.

The rationale is clear: if a local authority proceeds without carefully considering its grounds for listing a property as being of architectural or historic interest and in doing so ultimately concludes that it should not be listed, but the process occasions loss to the owner, there is entitlement to compensation for that loss. As I say, perversely this arrangement might lead to unforeseen outcomes, such as including things that should not be on the list, but bear in mind that the owner may be caught in the middle of a contract of works that might be a matter of recurring repair and refurbishment and, as I say, could be permitted development. So they are clearly vulnerable at that stage, and most people would consider that the reasonable enjoyment of one’s property, without the intervention of unsubstantiated statutory powers, should be compensated as a matter of basic rights to the reasonable enjoyment of one’s property. Recognising, however, that local government is acutely underresourced to deal with heritage matters, I note that it appears to have been an object of policy of successive Administrations to pass the risks and costs to owners rather than to internalise them within the public domain, notwithstanding the questionable economic justification or social justice of so doing.

I acknowledge that some minds within the Government’s heritage adviser, Historic England, did at least consider an alternative approach. That was to provide a form of indemnity insurance against claims arising from building preservation notices. This got as far as a pilot study, which had the intention of providing practical guidance to forward policy; however, the promised report that was supposed to be the outcome of this exercise has never yet seen the light of day and there has been no subsequent discussion or debate on the matter. Yet here we are, faced with Clause 98, which purports to remove the right to compensation. The only justification I can find, having made some inquiries of people with closer links to local government than I have, is that it was seen as being handy to have. If that is the justification, I do not think it is good enough. It would, to my mind, have the perverse outcome of facilitating speculative and wholly unjustified interventions by local authorities without need for demonstrable grounds, and with that the denial of fair and equitable treatment of owners where it can be shown they were needlessly and adversely disadvantaged.

I remind noble Lords that Clause 98 does not apply to the situation in Wales. I assume that the current compensation provisions there remain intact. This seems, at best, a tad asymmetric. That is the point of principle here, which is why Amendment 245 sets out to put the cart back behind the horse, where it belongs, so that the Secretary of State shall first consider and consult on the outcome of the pilot scheme before Clause 98 can be brought into force.

To conclude, I have two points. I ask the Minister for a reasoned justification for Clause 98, because I have not seen one. But I cannot entirely leave the matter there without noting that this is not the only instance in the Bill where the overriding of private property rights in the public interest, without proper safeguards, suggests an infringement of human rights legislation. I further understand that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has not commented on the Bill, which is why I have drawn some of the other instances, but not this particular one, to its attention. It does, however, cause me to further ask the Minister, in the light of my explanations, by what metric his noble colleague felt able to certify HR compliance of the Bill, which appears on its title page. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is an important group of amendments, and I have great pleasure in supporting them all. I have two amendments in my name, which reflect a particular interest that the Victorian Society has in the demolition of non-listed buildings. I am very grateful to the Victorian Society for marshalling support for these amendments. I would also say that these are amendments that sit the heart of the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill, and they follow present practice, to which I will draw attention. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Carrington, for their stamina in being here to support these amendments. I will try to be brief.

My amendments address a serial, long-standing failure to protect the historic built environment that gives the ordinary places we live character, memory and beauty through familiar structures. Nationally protected buildings are, as we know, protected if they are listed. They are secured by law, but the demolition of most buildings is permitted without planning permission if they are not listed or in a conservation area, even if they are in good condition and have potential new uses. This has been happening, as recorded by the Victorian Society, across the country, and the problem is that because of the historic underlisting of important buildings that Historic England identifies through the Saunders report. Buildings that are potentially listable and not on the list can be demolished.

Permitted development is exactly what it says: the ability to demolish or change a structure with none of the protections or local involvement that the planning system provides. It has been an unwelcome flood that has been extended in recent years, which brings unpredictability and perverse consequences. It is well overdue for a review, and I ask the Minister to consider very seriously whether he and his colleagues can put that into practice now.

The changes that PDR promotes, together with what the noble Lord previously implied—the hollowing out of planning departments and the loss of conservation specialists—means that our villages, small towns and cities are at greater risk than they have been for some time. The risk is from cumulative change as well as casual change, and it is irreversible. Locally listed buildings—a very small number in relation to the whole—are now particularly vulnerable. My two amendments focus on these groups.

Amendment 312G would remove permitted development rights for all demolition. It would allow for public consultation and would protect all non-designated heritage assets. Amendment 312H focuses on the local listing of buildings. It removes permitted demolition rights for locally listed assets and protects non-designated heritage assets that are on a local planning authority’s local list. This is long overdue. We also suggest that the Secretary of State could provide further clarity by setting out a definition of what qualifies as a local list following consultation.

These amendments are timely and would re-engage local communities. They would be extremely welcome, and I offer them as a gift to the Government, who are now in an election year. They are timely. Is it not better to save our historic assets that are still safe, habitable and useful than to pull them down? Increasingly, this is how people feel. In recent years, when so much in the country has shifted around us, we have come increasingly to value the quality and resonance of our local environment. This intensified during the pandemic.

When I was heavily involved with the Heritage Lottery Fund, we funded a great deal of locally inspired small projects within 15 minutes of the places where people live. We had a tremendous response. It drew out of local communities the things that they felt were really important to them. It is clear that keeping and repurposing historic buildings—schools, surgeries, churches, cinemas, factories, mills—is seen as an infinitely better alternative and one within reach. They retain character and diversity and inspire unique pride across the generations. We have lost so much, and we will lose more unless we stop and pause.

Once something is gone, whether it is the Euston Arch or a local cinema, we cannot recover it. At a time of so much instability in the high street and excessive office building, surely the time has come to rethink and repurpose for what people need today, whether that is childcare centres or marketplaces.

The second argument for timeliness has been used across this Bill for many days: climate change. Demolition wastes energy and demands more. We are now in the final lengths if we are to avoid the tipping point of global temperature—1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—but our preparations are, to reflect what our Climate Change Committee has said, pitifully inadequate. It is not enough to build new houses to net-zero standards, even if we were doing that. The demolition and reconstruction of buildings is a huge expense that brings a direct increase in emissions; up to 51% of a residential building’s carbon is emitted before the building is operational, and for an office building it is up to 35%.

It is particularly perverse—this bears on the argument that we have been having on the conservation of buildings for many years—that the VAT rules incentivise demolition. There is no VAT on demolition, but there is 20% VAT on repair and maintenance. It makes no sense. If that were reversed, it would help us meet our net-zero target. What could possibly be wrong with that?

The second argument is simply democratic. Demolition is the nuclear option, yet one in which the local community has no say. By bringing demolition of all non-designated assets as well as those that are locally listed into planning disciplines, the local authority and the local community would finally have some influence and be able to follow through. This seems to be reasonable and right. I simply say to those who argue that this is impractical, would give too much power to local people and set back development that my first amendment would not prevent demolition; it would just have to be considered on its own merits. It brings a benefit with it because in most cases it would be logical to make an application for demolition alongside the application for the new building, which would enable the site to be considered strategically as a whole. A de minimis right would remain regarding small structures so that planning permission would not be required for demolition.

These arguments apply to both my amendments, but apply to the second with specific force. It is self-evident that buildings which are locally listed have a particular character and meaning for the local community. They are a clear guide to what is significant and enable local decisions to reflect that. That is the only protection they have. However, blanket PDRs exclude them. The buildings on the local list can be demolished without planning permission if they are not in a conservation area. A local community hall at the heart of a community, but not in a conservation area, can be demolished without challenge.

At present, the only option for saving a locally listed building is to use the cumbersome procedure of an Article 4 direction, which is a real hassle. It does not get used because the time and people are not there and it is too expensive. Anyway, not all local authorities have local lists, as the Government have recognised by putting £1.5 million into improving their coverage and consistency. My second amendment in this group would put protections around these most significant and well-loved local buildings, which are often better known than national monuments. That would be the first step, but the Government could strengthen this by issuing guidance on the criteria that those local lists would have to meet to be excluded from PDRs.

These amendments have been carefully thought out and prepared. They have the support of the Heritage Alliance, which represents a wide constituency of heritage bodies, and are entirely consistent with the published advice issued by Historic England. Even more persuasively, they are completely consistent with the spirit of this Bill and the principles and practice of the levelling-up agenda. I welcome that the role of heritage in promoting the levelling-up agenda has been recognised in the partnerships between government and the heritage bodies that are working to conserve and develop historic assets and the environment around the country, particularly in poor areas. Government figures show that £594 million—a terrific amount of money—of the £2.1 billion from the second round of the levelling-up fund has been awarded to local projects to restore local heritage.

These amendments serve that purpose. There are beautiful and resourceful historic buildings in every community in the country, no matter how different they are, which reflect the history of those communities and can be put to work for another generation whose needs are different. I commend the amendments to the Minister and hope that he will take their point.

My Lords, I rise to support the amendments that were so ably addressed and presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. These are important amendments because the demolition of historic building is a very long-standing problem. I do not want to go through all the arguments that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, ably set out in her speech; I want to consider some slightly different issues which these amendments would help to address.

Part of the long-standing problem is that historic buildings are not properly protected by either our planning or listing systems. This is partly because fashions change, partly because of prejudice and partly purely because the legislation does not keep up with the need to protect buildings as they become old and more vulnerable. It is an old problem. Those of us who go back a few years—I ought to say that I have been a member of the Victorian Society since I was a teenager, which some of you will be surprised to hear was one or two years ago—will remember the Firestone factory, which was expected to be listed as a great Art Deco building. It was knocked down overnight—indeed, it was severely damaged to ensure that it could not be repaired—to stop it being listed. The Firestone building was not alone. Those of you who remember the last 20 or 25 years will recall Kensington Town Hall in Kensington High Street. Outrageously, the local council, whose politics I strongly agree with, knocked down the façade of the old town hall overnight to stop it being listed. Neither of these buildings would necessarily have been a great priority for listing, but they were certainly well worth protecting.

Another problem is that the listing regime has a bias, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has said, against buildings which are post-1850. This means that if a building is prior to 1850, it is very likely to be listed; if it is after 1850, it is less likely to be listed. I just have to tell you the names of some of the architects whose careers were entirely after 1850: think of the very great Richard Norman Shaw, Charles Voysey, Edwin Lutyens and Giles Gilbert Scott, who rebuilt the new Chamber of the other place down the corridor. These days, all their buildings would probably be listed.

Of course, architecture was not only great architects. Often, the great architect would put up a design, maybe even publish the design, and other architects would then take on that design and build buildings which perhaps did not have the genius of a Richard Norman Shaw but possibly had the style of one. These days, English Heritage would almost certainly consider them to be derivative and therefore not worthy of protection. It is a very serious problem.

Having slightly defined one bit of the problem, I want to come on to why developers use the permitted development rights to knock down buildings. If a developer is buying a building, he is buying it almost in every case to build another building on the site, unless he is trying to extend his garden. If a developer rushes in to knock down what was there before, before getting planning permission to build what they are going to replace it with, there is a reason for doing that. One reason may be, as with the Kensington Town Hall and the Firestone tyre factory, that they thought it might be listed. The other reason is that it is much more difficult for a planning committee of a local authority to refuse planning permission to an empty site than it is to a site that already has a perfectly usable building on it, so they will knock it down. There is a third reason, the one raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, concerning VAT—they may feel that there is an incentive to get on with the work because of the VAT and the cash elements in it, but, frankly, that is minor compared with the other two.

So there is an issue here which needs to be addressed. There is no reason why developers should not be required, at the time they put in their planning application to rebuild on a site, to put in a similar, parallel application to demolish. I am not saying that every building should be protected; that would be nonsense—there are a lot of buildings which, quite frankly, could easily be replaced with better buildings. What I am saying, and I believe this is also what the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, was saying, is that we need to think about it. We need to look at the building that is there and say, “Is this a building that could better be used by being refurbished and keeping the character of the town or street preserved?”.

Those of us who have travelled, as I am sure all of us have, around Europe will be well aware of the beauty of towns in France, Germany or wherever, where the character of the town has been preserved to look as though it evolved gently over time to reflect the character of the people. Too often, our towns and high streets are a higgledy-piggledy collection of some fine buildings, some meritorious buildings, some rather dull buildings and some buildings that look as though they were designed and built purely with the idea of keeping the costs down but with no real element of design. We need to bring this to an end: we need to stop developers’ profits determining what it is that our towns, villages and high streets look like—we need to ensure that more thought goes into it.

I think these amendments go a long way to achieving that. The problem I have with them is that some of the worst offenders in knocking down buildings are local authorities themselves. Sadly, local authorities will police their own planning committees, and consequently if they want to do something for whatever reason and there is a building in the way, they will give themselves planning permission to knock it down and rebuild when they probably should not. I do not know how we get round that, but it is a problem and has been a problem in London for some time, where civic buildings in particular have been knocked down outrageously because the town hall decided that what it really wanted to do was build a monument to the current councillors. That is something which we need to address and these amendments do not address it, but they are a movement along the way.

It has also been suggested that it would be sensible for these amendments to have timelines in them. The suggestion has been twofold. One is that the time should be 1948, so we would not remove permitted development rights from buildings built after 1948. I would oppose that. As much as I like Victorian and early 20th-century buildings, some very fine buildings built after 1948 are vulnerable too. The other suggestion is that the timeline should be based on 1850, which, frankly, is a nonsense for the reasons I have already given. Therefore I strongly support these amendments.

However, I will end by giving the House the apologies of my noble friend Lord Cormack, who could not be here to move his own Amendment 247B, which is in this group of amendments and which gives protection to statues and monuments; it is not confined just to buildings. My understanding is that this is largely already covered in existing legislation. The removal of statues from listed buildings would clearly require planning permission. There is a degree of protection but I am unclear as to quite how much, and I would greatly appreciate it if my noble friend the Minister could elucidate exactly what is possible.

There is also an issue around the desecration of statues, which has become rather fashionable, from writing graffiti on the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square to putting funny hats on the statue of Disraeli in Liverpool—I rather suspect he would have found that rather amusing and would have enjoyed it, provided that the hat was decorative and fun and fell in with his zeitgeist. I am not sure that statutes are protected from being defaced, and I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could comment on that as well.

Other than that, I strongly support these amendments. I hope that they will be acceptable to the Government and to the House, and I look forward to our heritage, our streetscapes and our towns being better protected as places of beauty, history and community than they are at present.

My Lords, I agree strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, just said about Amendments 312G and 312H, as well as with what the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said about them. This is a particularly serious matter and I hope that the Government will pay due attention. A range of issues has been raised in this group, the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on timelines might be a possible way forward for discussion and prove productive.

I have had concerns for some time about permitted development rights, feeling that in some cases they are simply too loose. My previous concerns have related, for example, to conversions of offices to residential flats for sale, which often reduces the total number of places where people can go to work and increases the distances to where their place of work may then have to be. Very often, permitted development rights are used for short-term development reasons but where those reasons may not be in the long-term interests of a local area, and we need to remember that long term.

I have put my name to Amendments 312G and 312H alongside those of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, because there is another aspect of permitted development rights that I believe needs reform in the interests of maintaining our heritage. According to the Royal Institute of British Architects, approximately 50,000 buildings are demolished each year. Many of them may well be unfit or unsuitable for the modern age, and demolition is understandable in those cases where they are going to be replaced with something better.

However, that is not always the case, as we have heard from previous speakers. The Victorian Society has produced evidence that high-quality historic buildings are being demolished when they still have a useful purpose. Many buildings are not listed when they could be. I have concluded that there is a gap in our regulations, which should require that older buildings, at least, that are not listed, should have to undergo a further test. That test is, I suggest, the planning system, which could consider demolition as part of a redevelopment application. If there is no redevelopment application, there is no obvious reason to demolish the building, where it is safe. That could end up with an empty site for a long time, or a later application for a worse development than the building demolished.

These arguments relate to Amendment 312G, but Amendment 312H is also critical. It requires planning permission to demolish locally listed buildings. These lists exist for a reason, and demolition should not be treated lightly. Strangely, not all local councils have local lists anyway, which is another concern.

It should not be possible for buildings on a local list to be demolished without planning permission if they are outside a conservation area—rules currently apply if they are inside a conservation area. I ask the Minister: what is the point of a local list otherwise? Local lists need protection from poor, short-term decisions on demolition which are contrary to our long-term heritage interests. This is about buildings that matter to local people and future-proofing our heritage, and I very much hope the Minister will concur.

My Lords, first, I simply put right a matter of record. I failed to declare my interests in our debate before lunch. I have two buy-to-let properties, as marked on the register.

I now briefly reference Amendment 247B from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham. I refer to our heritage assets in the context of properties, as well as statues and artwork. In the UK, a disproportionately small minority can cause heritage assets to be removed from public view, whether they are in public or private ownership or locations.

Furthermore, the world we live in of modern development seldom includes a requirement on developers to contribute to what I think is referred to as the public realm. Most larger developments, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, are built to minimum cost. We must not forget that good architecture and good design—itself expensive—is a great contribution to the public realm. The presence of statues and monuments, and good building design is a really important contribution to society. Planning applications should have a public realm box, simply to ask whether they are making any contribution to the public realm and heritage assets. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, should also refer to heritage assets which are stored out of sight and yet are in public ownership.

My Lords, this group of amendments relates to heritage, assets of community value and permitted development rights for demolition of buildings. I am pleased to be responding as Minister for Heritage, and I am very happy to discuss these matters with individual noble Lords, as I speak for the first time on this Bill.

Amendment 243, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, and moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Secretary of State to publish a review of local heritage lists and the results of the 2018 review of the non-statutory guidance on assets of community value. That review was undertaken to shape the future direction of the policy in the levelling-up White Paper that His Majesty’s Government committed to and explore how the existing community asset transfer and asset of community value schemes can be enhanced. We will continue to make funds available to groups through the community ownership fund.

Regarding the review of local heritage lists, the Government recognise the importance of identifying and managing those parts of the historic environment which are valued by their community. We have given £1.5 million to 22 places across England to support local planning authorities and their residents to develop new and update local heritage lists. Our intention is that the lessons learned from that work will be shared with other local authorities so that they too can benefit from the good practice that is building up in this area. As part of the development of the new national planning policy framework, we will also develop new proposals for statutory national development management policies, including policies to protect local heritage assets. Such proposals will be subject to future consultation; we would not want to pre-empt the outcome of that consultation by taking steps such as those envisaged in this amendment right now.

Amendment 246, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would require draft legislation to reform assets of community value to be published within 90 days of Royal Assent of this Bill. Community assets play a vital role in creating thriving neighbourhoods. The assets of community value scheme enables communities and parish councils with the right to register a building or piece of land as an asset of community value if the principal use of the asset furthers their community’s well-being or social interests and is likely to do so in future. The scheme has been successful in helping community groups to identify important local assets at risk of loss. As I have mentioned, the levelling-up White Paper committed us to consider how the existing assets of community value framework can be enhanced. We must ensure that any changes to the legislation are workable in practice. To do this in a meaningful way needs consultation with all the parties that it will affect, including community groups, local authorities which are responsible for listing assets, and businesses and private individuals who are property owners. An amendment such as this risks creating legislation which does not work in practice. The framework must balance community power and the ability to safeguard community assets in a way that is fair, targeted and proportionate. We are committed to exporting the scope for improvements which can maintain this important balance, but it is important that we do so in a way which gives time with those with an interest to reflect on their experience and any proposals for change.

Amendment 244, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would mean that when deciding on the correct recipient of a temporary stop notice, the authority should have regard to the tenancy status of the occupier and their level of responsibility for any works on the property. Clause 96 addresses a gap in the enforcement powers available to local authorities in relation to listed buildings, which will help to protect these irreplaceable assets for generations to come. While under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 local authorities have the power to serve temporary stop notices, there is currently no equivalent power in relation to listed buildings. Clause 96 amends the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to give local planning authorities the power to issue temporary stop notices in relation to unauthorised works to a listed building in England.

The noble Baroness’s amendment seeks to add a requirement for local planning authorities to have regard to the tenancy status of the occupier and their level of responsibility. Temporary stop notices are an existing enforcement tool which local planning authorities are accustomed to issuing. Those planning authorities have experience of considering matters such as tenancy status and the level of responsibility for works carried out when they serve such notices, which would also apply in this context. The Government believe that the local planning authorities do not require the additional guidance that this amendment would provide, so they do not feel that it is necessary.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, asked me how local authorities can identify the owner of the properties when sending out a temporary stop notice. They can use a variety of sources: for instance, council tax records, planning application registers, and the Land Registry are some of the open sources of information that they are already able to consult. Usually, they would do everything they can to identify to whom it should best be served, and it can indeed be to a variety of people.

Amendment 245 was tabled by the noble Earls, Lord Lytton and Lord Devon. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked for a rationale for Clause 98. In short, the current system for issuing building preservation notices is not working. These notices offer interim protection to a building which is considered to be of special architectural and historic interest, which is at risk of alteration or demolition, but they are not being used enough by local authorities because of a fear of inordinate costs. The Government find that unacceptable. Local planning authorities, through our expert heritage advisers, Historic England, have already clearly indicated that the risk of compensation being paid out remains a barrier to serving these notices. We therefore do not feel that a public consultation on this would be helpful to identify further underlying causes: we think we know what it is. Noble Lords should also note that the majority of buildings assessed while a building preservation notice is in place have gone on to be given permanent statutory protection.

The noble Earl mentioned Historic Houses. I am meeting its director general, Ben Cowell, next week, so I will be happy to discuss the matter more with him. He also mentioned the Listed Property Owners Club which, by definition, covers properties which are already listed and therefore have the protections that come with that. The Government are confident that the removal of compensation will encourage local planning authorities to make greater effective use of the building preservation notice process, thus helping to better protect our nation’s most important historic buildings from potentially harmful alterations or extensions, or demolition.

Could the Minister explain why he considers it appropriate for authorities to have this power but, to visit direct—and it must be direct—loss in order to be compensable, he thinks it is not appropriate that the exercise of powers should be accompanied by compensation? What other areas where the compensation code might be deemed to apply does he think are in some way disposable? I remind him of the principles that I referred to right at the end of discussing human rights, on the questions of the reasonable enjoyment of one’s property, not being dispossessed of it by the state other than for an overriding reason, and then only on the provision of proper compensation, determined by an independent adjudicator if necessary. Does he depart from those particular principles?

I am grateful to the noble Earl for his questions. If it is helpful, I am very happy to speak to him in advance of my meeting with Ben Cowell next week, so that I can have a fruitful discussion with him and with Historic Houses on this point.

He asked about the Secretary of State’s declaration on the Bill. That is self-evident: the Secretary of State has found it compatible with human rights laws. But I will leave it to colleagues at the Secretary of State’s department to speak further on that. With the offer to meet the noble Earl ahead of my meeting, I hope that he will be happy with the point that I have outlined about wanting to remove what we see as a hindrance to these notices being served.

Amendments 312G and 312H, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, would require the Secretary of State to remove permitted development rights for the demolition of buildings. These amendments aim to reduce demolition and consequently carbon emissions, to increase communities’ ability to shape local places and to protect non-designated heritage assets. I completely agree with the remarks she made about the value of historic buildings and our historic environment to communities and the importance of preserving them for generations to come. I pay tribute to the work she has done over many years on this at English Heritage, the National Lottery Heritage Fund and in many other ways.

Permitted development rights are a national grant of planning permission that allow certain building works and changes of use to take place. There is a long-standing permitted development right which permits the demolition of buildings, subject to certain limitations and conditions, as she outlined in her speech. Her Amendment 312G seeks to remove this permitted development right for all but the smallest buildings. Her Amendment 312H seeks to remove the right for locally listed heritage assets only. These amendments would mean that works to demolish affected buildings would require the submission of a planning application.

I want to make it clear to noble Lords that the Government are committed to ensuring that planning permission contributes to our work to mitigate and adapt to climate change. National planning policy is clear that the planning system should support our transition to a low-carbon future, including helping to encourage the reuse of existing resources and the conversion of existing buildings where appropriate. The National Model Design Code encourages sustainable construction focused on reducing embodied energy, embedding circular economy principles to reduce waste, designing for disassembly and exploring the remodelling and reusing of buildings where possible rather than rebuilding. I know that our heritage bodies—not just our arm’s-length bodies such as Historic England but right across the sector—are doing sincere and fruitful work to make sure that we have the skills, not just now but in generations to come, to carry out the works to effect that.

I also want to stress that the Government recognise the need to protect historic buildings and other assets valued by their local communities. The heritage designation regime in England protects buildings of special architectural and historic interest, but we understand there are many other buildings and assets that local people cherish. Planning practice guidance encourages local planning authorities to prepare local lists of non-designated heritage assets. I mentioned earlier the £1.5 million we have given to support local planning authorities and their residents to develop new and updated local heritage lists, with the intention that the lessons learned from that work will be shared later this year.

Local planning authorities have the power, where they consider it necessary, to remove specific permitted development rights to protect a local amenity or the well-being of an area by making an article for direction. Powers to amend permitted development rights already exist in primary legislation. There are also tools within the existing planning system that can be used to manage demolition more responsively, such as the National Planning Policy Framework and local design codes. So, while we appreciate the importance of reducing carbon emissions, supporting local democracy and of course protecting heritage assets, we do not believe that these amendments are necessary to achieve those aims. I want to assure the noble Baroness that we will of course continue to keep permitted development rights under review and look at them with a heritage lens as well.

I understand the point raised by my noble friend Lord Carrington of Fulham about the protections available to more recent buildings. While the tastes of individual Ministers are rightly irrelevant in the process, I share his admiration for the work of Giles Gilbert Scott. I live close to what was King’s College Hospital in Denmark Hill and is now the home of the Salvation Army. I had the pleasure of speaking on 8 September last year—a date which sadly sticks in the mind—to a conference organised by the think tank Create Streets on diverse modernities, where I was able to talk about his other buildings, such as the university library and the memorial court at Clare College in Cambridge.

I said on that occasion that the Government recognise that the eligible age for protection by statutory listing needs to continue rolling forward. In the past, recent buildings have not been a focus for listing, but I am glad to say that that is no longer the case. One-third of the buildings listed by recent Secretaries of State have been 20th century buildings. I think one of the most recent examples is the headquarters of Channel 4 on Horseferry Road, which dates from the 1990s.

The listing regime is not prejudiced. As per the Secretary State’s principles for selection, planning and development are not taken into account when listing a building—it is done purely on historic and architectural merit. The older a building is and the fewer surviving examples there are of its kind, the more likely it is to have special interest. From 1850 to 1945, because of the greatly increased number of building erected and the much larger number of buildings that were constructed and have survived, progressively greater selection is therefore necessary. Careful selection is of course required for buildings from the period after the Second World War.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for speaking to Amendment 247B tabled by our noble friend Lord Cormack. As my noble friend Lord Carrington said, the noble Lord sends his apologies for not being able to be here in your Lordships’ House today. Noble Lords will know he is the last person who would wish to express discourtesy to your Lordships’ House. He has given me permission to share that it is only because he is collecting his wife from hospital following an operation that he is unable to be here today. I am sure noble Lords will understand and want to join me in wishing Lady Cormack a swift recuperation.

I am grateful to him for his amendment, which highlights the importance of lists of locally important heritage assets. I have been able to speak to my noble friend about his amendment and some of the points that lie behind it. As Minister for Heritage, I am, on behalf of the Secretary of State, responsible for the statutory designation system that lists buildings of architectural and historic importance, and protects monuments of national importance. Local listing is a non-statutory means by which local planning authorities can, if they wish, identify heritage assets that are of local importance but do not meet the criteria for national designation and statutory protection as a listed building or a scheduled monument, and then take account of these assets during the planning process. In recent years, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has provided financial support to selected local planning authorities wishing to develop a local list with the assistance of Historic England.

Local lists are discretionary; some local planning authorities compile local lists and some do not. Under the terms of local listing, it is up to those authorities which heritage assets they include in local lists. I am not, at present, convinced that, given this discretionary nature, we should be legislating for local lists to include all statues and monuments in an area. While many statues and monuments are very clearly cherished by the local community and should be included on local lists, there will be instances where it would be inappropriate to include certain statues and monuments—for instance, a sculpture in somebody’s private garden. Local planning authorities, following consultation with their communities, are best placed to decide what should be included on a local list.

Our national designation system already ensures statutory protection of our most significant heritage assets, including statues and monuments. The national listing process already protects those that meet the criteria of special architectural or historic interest. We have recently increased the protections for non-designated statues and monuments in public places that are more than 10 years old, whether they are locally listed or not. Their removal now needs explicit planning permission, and we have made it clear in national planning policy that decisions on statues and monuments should have regard to our policy of retaining and explaining these important historical assets.

My noble friend raised the question of the definition of “alteration”, pointing to some examples, including the statue of the Earl of Beaconsfield, Benjamin Disraeli. As it is the day after Primrose Day, and the birthday of my noble friend Lord Lexden—the Conservative Party’s official historian—I must echo my noble friend’s comments about Disraeli and the amusement he might find in some of the treatment of statues of him today. But the point my noble friend makes is an interesting one, which I am happy to discuss with him and my noble friend Lord Cormack. As he is not here for me to ask him not to move his amendment, I offer, on the record, to discuss this with him and any other noble Lords. I beg all noble Lords whose amendments I have addressed not to move their amendments and beg the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment at this juncture.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and I thank the Minister for his thorough response to these amendments. On my noble friend’s Amendment 243, I was pleased that the Minister said that the Government will continue to provide funds for assets of community value, but just providing funds does not address the problem that many communities do not have the capacity to put the bids together in the first place. That is our main concern here. It looks like we are again waiting to hear the detail—this time about what will be in the NDMPs. I guess we will be updated on this later on in the Bill, but I am sure we will return to it when we get to those particular clauses.

On Amendment 246, it is good that the Minister talked about the Government’s improvements in this area but, again, this comes back to the fact that more needs to be done to support all communities’ abilities to put together suitable bids and plans. Some communities are not able to; they do not have that ability. So it is not about the amount available—it is making sure that all communities have proper access and are able to put together suitable bids.

On the local heritage lists in Amendment 243, one of our concerns is that they do not have any standing in planning law, so there is a big gap between what has listed status and what is available to go on to local heritage lists. We think that local authorities should be able to determine that degree of protection, which they currently cannot, for buildings on their heritage lists. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said that many local authorities do not even know about them, so there is an issue there that the Government could perhaps take a look at.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, made some good points—he is always extremely clear about his concerns—and I am sure he will want to come back to discuss them further. My noble friend Lady Andrews made some really important points, as did the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, when he supported her. She said that there had been a long-standing failure to protect our historic environment. Our amendments work with hers quite well to try to look at the bigger picture and strengthen protections. The noble Baroness made the important point that planning departments are really strapped, so they need more help to protect buildings from demolition. Developers have a lot of money and often a lot of resources available to them, but local authorities do not have those resources or the people. If the Minister is able to look at my noble friend’s second amendment again, that would be extremely helpful—there could potentially be some way forward. He seemed to agree with much of what she said, so perhaps he could suggest a similar amendment on Report, which would be helpful.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, made a good point about certain iconic buildings that have disappeared. I am sure that all of us can think of similar buildings in our own communities that have gone, and it has really shocked people when they have been demolished unexpectedly, even when there was already an agreement that they would not be demolished.

So this is a good group of amendments, and I hope that the Minister will consider some of the arguments further. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 243 withdrawn.

Clause 95 agreed.

Clause 96: Temporary stop notices in relation to listed buildings

Amendment 244 not moved.

Clause 96 agreed.

Clause 97 agreed.

Clause 98: Removal of compensation for building preservation notice

Amendment 245

Tabled by

245: Clause 98, page 108, line 19, at end insert—

“(3) Subsections (1) and (2) shall only take effect following an order made by the Secretary of State.(4) The Secretary of State may only make the order in subsection (3) once a public consultation on the case for the change, drawing on the results of the Historic England indemnity pilot, has been completed.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment ensures that the results of the Historic England pilot are taken into account and that there is public debate and scrutiny before compensation rights are removed.

My Lords, I will not move this amendment, but I look forward to meeting with the Minister about this, and I may well return to it at a later stage in the Bill.

Amendment 245 not moved.

Clause 98 agreed.

Amendment 246 not moved.

Amendment 247

Moved by

247: After Clause 98, insert the following new Clause—

“Permitted development: replacement windows in conservation areasIn the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (S.I. 2015/596), Schedule 2, Part 1, Class A.3(a), after “materials” insert “(and, in respect of a replacement window in a conservation area, style and colour)”.”

My Lords, I move Amendment 247, brought forward by my noble friend Lord Northbrook, who sadly cannot be here today. I will also speak to Amendments 247A and 285 in this group and in his name. I speak on his behalf.

The most important amendment in this group is Amendment 247A, and I shall deal with it first. It provides a solution to a significant problem. Local planning authorities—LPAs—in deciding on an application for development in a conservation area are currently required under Section 72(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to determine whether the proposed development would preserve or enhance

“the character or appearance of that area”.

LPAs have a wide degree of discretion in deciding whether this statutory test is passed. In a number of conservation areas—and I am thinking particularly of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea—planning officers, for understandable reasons, do not normally live in or near the relevant conservation area, but they routinely substitute their own opinions for the opinions of those who do, frequently in disregard of the relevant conservation area appraisal document and advice from important third parties such as Historic England. This problem is particularly acute in the royal borough, where harmful decisions have been made in the past and then used as a precedent to justify approving further harm of a similar nature.

This line of reasoning has been criticised frequently by the Planning Inspectorate and runs contrary to the advice of Historic England in its Historic Environment Good Practice Advice in Planning: 2 called Managing Significance in Decision-Taking in the Historic Environment, which was published in March 2015. Paragraph 28 of this document states:

“The cumulative impact of incremental small-scale changes may have as great an effect on the significance of a heritage asset as a larger scale change. Where the significance of a heritage asset”—

and this, of course, includes the entirety of the conservation area—

has been compromised in the past by unsympathetic development to the asset itself or its setting, consideration still needs to be given to whether additional change will further detract from, or can enhance, the significance of the asset”.

Regrettably, such consideration is all too often not given by planning officers in their decision reports in the exercise of delegated powers or in their advisory reports to planning committees. Surely the people best qualified to assess whether a proposed development will preserve or enhance the character or appearance of a conservation area are those who live in it. Under this amendment, LPAs would be required to pay special attention to the views, if any, expressed by those who live in the area.

The Government might perhaps take the view that LPAs are already obliged to consider all comments made during the course of a consultation on a planning application, rendering the amendment unnecessary. However, the obligation in this amendment to pay special attention is stronger than the obligation merely to have regard to comments made and the amendment is specifically tied to comments made by those who live in the area. If planning officers wish to substitute their own opinions on what is good for a conservation area, they should explain clearly and convincingly why they seek to do so and why the views of local residents should not be respected. This amendment would introduce the necessary arrangements.

I turn now to Amendment 247, which concerns permitted development rights to install replacement windows in conservation areas. Currently, permitted development rights to improve or alter a dwelling house are subject to a condition that

“the materials used in any exterior work must be of a similar appearance to those used in the construction of the exterior of the existing dwellinghouse”.

The amendment would require that replacement windows in a conservation area must be of similar style and colour to the windows they are replacing, not just that the materials be of similar appearance, if the right to install the new windows is to be permitted development. This would not require replacement windows to be of similar style and colour, but simply bring them within the scope of planning control if they are not.

As we all know, many conservation areas in England have attractive streets of 19th-century terraced houses, in which the windows fronting the street are white-painted wooden sliding sash windows with traditional Georgian-style glazing bars enclosing relatively small panes of glass. Many LPAs routinely include as a standard condition of planning approvals in conservation areas that any replacement of sliding sash windows fronting the street should be like-for-like sliding sash windows, but this can be challenged successfully. For example, there was a remarkable case in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where the owner of a house installed an ugly, non-sliding sash window in breach of a planning condition. A complaint was made to the council and a request was made to planning enforcement to have the window removed. One of the local ward councillors, who happened also to be the cabinet member for planning at the time, said that it was clearly inappropriate and would need to be replaced as soon as possible. The enforcement officer agreed with the complaint, and an enforcement notice was duly served. The owner then told the council that his new window was in fact a permitted development; the result was that the enforcement notice was cancelled, and the enforcement officer accepted that the council had no control over its style. The window remains. I note, in passing, that it was very surprising that neither the owner, his planning consultants, the cabinet member for planning nor the enforcement officer were aware, at the time of the application, that the installation of the replacement window was a permitted development. That was a reflection of the confused state of the general permitted development order at the time, on which I shall say a few words when I turn to Amendment 285.

Is it not odd that the current applicable condition for the permitted development right to install replacement windows is merely that similar material must be used? That is to say that, if the window being replaced is made of wood and glass, the replacement window should also be made of wood and glass. The purpose of permitted development rights is to facilitate obvious improvements without the need for planning permission, but how can this entitlement to install ugly new windows be considered an improvement?

I hope that the Government will be inclined to consider the amendment sympathetically. If not, perhaps my noble friend will explain the logic of requiring similar materials but not similar style and colour. Replacement windows fronting attractive streets in conservation areas should be like-for-like; if not, they should need planning permission, and the GPDO should be amended to reflect that.

Finally, I turn briefly to Amendment 285. Schedule 2 to the general permitted development order sets out permitted development rights—namely, rights to develop for which planning permission is not required. It gets amended several times a year. Unfortunately, on the website, there is often no up-to-date, consolidated text, so anyone wishing to see what rights exist, or which existed at the time of a specific application, has to spend many hours on the internet searching for all the amendments made to it since it came into force on 15 April 2015, and this research needs to be conducted separately on each occasion. I have mentioned already one example of where failure to provide a consolidated text confused even experts and professionals in the planning world. Most other legislation is available to read on the internet in up-to-date, consolidated form, so why not the GPDO?

I am glad to see that today, some seven or eight years after the 2015 GPDO came into force, an up-to-date consolidated text is now, at long last, available on the official website. As of today, the text is up to date, but this is a rare occurrence. All too often the text says that there are outstanding changes not yet made by the editorial team. Why are changes not made promptly?

All citizens surely have a right to see legislation clearly in its current state. This amendment would place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that an up-to-date consolidated text is made available on the official website at all times. Would that not be appropriate and right? I beg to move.

My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, about conservation areas and permitted development rights. For residents who are fortunate enough to live in a conservation area, it is both a privilege and a responsibility. When the noble Lord was trying balance homeowners wanting to make appropriate changes—and sometimes inappropriate changes—and local planning conservation officers seeming to rule the roost over what is and is not appropriate, I asked myself, “Where were the local councillors in this mix?”. Where I am a councillor, I have conservation areas in my ward, and where there is a disagreement about what is appropriate, I ask for it to go to the planning committee. Then, it has a public airing, which is precisely what should happen. The planning conservation officer states one view and residents another, and a decision is made. One of the great purposes of planning committees is to air views, balance them out and come to a conclusion.

I also have concerns about always expecting to maintain the standards of a building that was created 100 or 200 years ago in wood and glass, when the rest of us are trying very hard to increase insulation, particularly of windows and doors. A couple of years ago, I visited a window manufacturer not too far from here which makes heritage windows from plastic. I could not tell the difference, even though I have an interest in conservation and heritage. In our regulations, we need to enable that to happen so that buildings remain appropriate for the time, while conserving the best features and personality of a townscape, which I know the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, wants to retain for people to love and enjoy in the future.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for introducing the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook.

I just make a very brief comment about the issue of replacement windows. My concern comes from a property that I know; it is in a conservation area and the windows are basically falling to pieces. It is owned by a young couple who applied for planning permission to replace the windows with something very similar, but not like for like—they could not afford like for like. Of course, they were turned down because it did not fit under the planning regulations as they are currently set up. A couple of years on, the outcome is that the windows are falling to pieces and nothing is happening. The couple are stuck, and the windows look dreadful. That is not their fault; they cannot afford to do what the planning inspectors tell them that they have to do.

I am very pleased that these amendments have been brought forward, because they enable us to talk about these anomalies in the way that the planning legislation is currently set up. It tries to protect the look of a place, but if that means that something does not happen because the owners of the property do not have the resources or finances to be able to do it, the property starts to decline. We have the example of windows, but it can be so much more. These are quite specific planning issues, but this is something that needs to be looked at.

My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Northbrook for tabling these amendments and my noble friend Lord Lexden for so ably introducing them.

Amendment 247 would require amendments to permitted development rights. Permitted development rights are a national grant of planning permission which allow certain building works and changes of use to take place. Rights in relation to England are set out in the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (2015/596). As we heard in the debate immediately preceding this group, heritage assets, including conservation areas, are an irreplaceable resource and it is important that we ensure that they are protected. Local authorities are required by law, in carrying out their functions, to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of conservation areas.

We are committed to quality and design regardless of whether homes are delivered through a permitted development right or a planning application. We intend to consult on introducing secondary legislation so that existing permitted development rights with design or external appearance prior approvals will take into account design codes where they are in place locally. Local authorities can remove specific permitted development rights to protect local amenity or the well-being of the area by making an Article 4 direction.

As committed to in the Government’s British Energy Security Strategy, we are currently undertaking a review of the practical planning barriers that households can face when installing energy-efficiency measures. This will include replacement windows with improved glazing, including in conservation areas. While this review is under way, it would be premature to accept this amendment, as it would curtail the scope of any legislative recommendations that the review might set out in due course.

To go further on that, because I know that this area was of concern to both noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock, the Government are fully committed to encouraging home owners to incorporate energy-efficiency measures in their properties. As part of this, we recognise the need to ensure that more historic buildings have the right energy-efficiency measures to support our zero-carbon objectives. The review of heritage and energy efficiency committed to in the British Energy Security Strategy and currently under way will enable the Government to respond to the issue in an informed and joined-up way. In addition, powers to amend permitted development rights already exist in primary legislation. For these reasons, the Government are unable to support this amendment; however, we will continue to keep permitted development rights under review.

I turn to Amendment 247A, which proposes a new clause amending Section 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to require, in exercise of planning functions, special attention to be paid to the views of residents in conservation areas. I understand my noble friend’s concerns. However, the purpose of Section 72 is to ensure that local planning authorities are required, when making planning decisions, to pay special attention to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of conservation areas. It is an important, long-standing duty that protects conservation areas.

Engagement with the sector during policy development for the Bill acknowledged that the framework for protecting the historic environment works well, although there are opportunities, we acknowledge, for targeted improvements. The package of heritage reforms focuses on maintaining the strong protections for the historic environment within the new planning system and, where possible, building on the existing framework. The proposed reforms will build on the existing protections without introducing any additional restrictions on development. It would be inappropriate to extend it so that local planning authorities have to pay special attention to the views of those living in conservation areas too. It would mean the views of conservation area residents would have greater weight than those living outside the area, which we think would be unfair.

In addition, in determining planning applications, decision-makers are already required to consult with local residents, and their views are taken into account. This will not change in our reformed system, and we are also taking powers in the Bill to improve the consultation process, making it more accessible by complementing more traditional forms of engagement with digital tools. It is not considered necessary, therefore, to duplicate these arrangements by extending the Section 72 special attention duty.

Turning to Amendment 285, we agree that it is important that the most up-to-date consolidated version of the general permitted development order, which sets out all the national permitted development rights, is publicly available online. Amendments to the order are often made, as we introduce new permitted development rights or make changes to the existing rights, through amending orders. The latest consolidated version of the general permitted development order is already available on the Government’s legislation website, alongside the original version.

I hope that I have provided the noble Lord with adequate reassurances, but we are unable to support these amendments at this time.

My Lords, I thank the two noble Baronesses on the Opposition Front Benches for their valuable points, particularly relating to replacement windows. I am grateful, above all, to my noble friend on the Government Front Bench for her full and carefully considered comments. My noble friend Lord Northbrook and those who are associated with him in giving further consideration to these matters will look very carefully at what my noble friend has said, and then they will be able to decide what further action they may wish to take. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 247 withdrawn.

Amendments 247A and 247B not moved.

Clause 99: Street votes

Amendment 248

Moved by

248: Clause 99, page 108, line 34, at end insert—

“(3) If there is conflict between street voting on development and the development plan, a determination must be made in favour of the development plan.”Member’s explanatory statement

The outcome of a street vote may conflict with the development plan. The amendment provides guidance on how to resolve this conflict.

My Lords, we come now to the clause in the Bill dealing with street votes, which has generated a substantial number of amendments, of which mine is the lead amendment. It seeks to ensure that a street vote cannot conflict with a local plan. This clause was not in the Bill when it was introduced in another place: it was introduced on the second day of Report. The Government have said that Clause 99

“is intended to encourage residents to consider the potential for additional development on their streets, and support a gentle increase in densities, in particular, in areas where additional new homes are needed”.

I expect the Minister will describe the provisions of the clause in more detail, so I will not spell them out.

We have heard the expression “gentle densification” several times from the Secretary of State; it is something he clearly approves of. I will need some clarification before I lend it my approval, for this reason. Michael Gove was in another place, as I was, when the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, then John Prescott, the Secretary of State, came up with a similar policy of promoting suburban development and the development of back gardens. Those with long memories will remember that all hell broke loose. On 7 March 2007, the Daily Mail thundered:

“Thirty thousand gardens every year ‘torn up’ due to Prescott's policies”.

My party was whipped to vote on a Friday for a Private Member’s Bill to block the policy. Greg Clark, the then shadow Minister, wanted gardens to be reclassified as greenfield sites, and he took up the cause because local authorities were powerless to stop gardens being built on. When my party won the 2010 general election, Greg Clark, then the Minister, ordered changes to planning rules that meant gardens will no longer be seen as brownfield land, ripe for development. Crucially, it meant that stronger powers were available to local authorities to block “gentle densification”.

I just mention that to put this proposal in a broad historic and political perspective and to suggest some caution before we endorse it. Normally, and indeed given the controversial background to this proposal, innovation such as this, in the planning world, would be preceded if not by a Green Paper then at least by some form of consultation to gauge its practicality and effectiveness. This would involve the LGA, the Royal Town Planning Institute and, of course, the public. Nothing of the sort ever took place. This policy emerged from a think tank and was fast-tracked into primary legislation, overtaking on the way some well thought-out and badly needed policies on housing reform, in sharp contrast to the normal process of policy formation. I believe that the Government are adopting a high-risk strategy and, rather than going straight into primary legislation, they should test the proposal in the usual way and then consider how best to proceed. There is nothing particularly urgent about this, and we need to get it right.

One of the problems I have with the clause is that it sits very uneasily with the objective of planning policy in the rest of the Bill, which is to promote certainty in the planning process through the adoption of local development plans. The development plan is supposed to act as the master plan for development at the local level and should therefore take primacy. Any variation from the plan would then have to go through a process before development at variance with the plan can proceed. Uncertainty is a theme that has run through all our debates. Ad hoc street votes undermine that principle, leaving residents who participated in good faith in the plan-making stage and are satisfied with the outcome with no recourse if policies at variance with the plan are then adopted following a street vote. As the LGA has pointed out, you can make provision for gentle densification using processes that already exist. That is one reason why Clause 99 does not have the support of the LGA.

Let me turn to the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Of the 19 pages that the DPRR Committee devoted to this marathon Bill of 223 clauses and eight schedules, no fewer than six are devoted to this one clause. To summarise its verdict, this is what it said about its objections:

“A common thread runs through them all: in each case, we consider that the power relates to matters that are too significant in policy terms to be left to be determined by regulations”.

It wants whole sections of the clause removed. To date, I do not think the Government have responded to that report, which came out on 1 February.

I was grateful to my noble friend the Minister for allowing officials to brief me in February about this clause, and I pay tribute to the lengths she has gone to try to satisfy my curiosity about the Bill. But it would be fair, following that briefing, to say that the policy is still in gestation. I believe that, if the clause survives, the intention is not to roll out the policy nationwide immediately but to have some pathfinders to test-drive the policy. Can my noble friend confirm this?

I have a real problem with how this is going to work out in practice. Take a suburban road, which we will call “the Avenue”. On either side are detached houses with back gardens with access to the garden by the side of the house. Parallel to the Avenue on either side are two other roads. Their back gardens back on to the back gardens of the houses on the Avenue. Under this clause, residents in the Avenue can decide, in a majority street vote, to allow those who want to do so to build a bungalow or indeed a two-storey house in their back gardens. This will clearly have an impact on the residents in the parallel roads, who will find their privacy affected, as there will be a new home overlooking their garden. But crucially, they have no vote. Also, those residents on the Avenue who voted no will find that their garden too has an intrusive development next door. I would not want to be the Member of Parliament for the Avenue. There is a potential recipe here for major neighbourhood friction, and I just wonder if this policy has been fully thought through. It would put into the shade the disputes we read of about leylandii.

I mentioned the LGA’s opposition. It said:

“We do not support the proposals for street votes as it could add another layer of complexity to the planning system, stifling the production and implementation of local plans and the delivery of affordable housing.”

I do not believe that the policy will help to solve the acute shortage of affordable accommodation. I suspect that we may get a lot of attics making already expensive houses even more expensive.

To be constructive, I should say that I have no objection to street votes feeding into the development plan process. Appropriate account could then be taken of the outcome in formulating the local plan, not least in formulating required likely future infrastructure such as schools, GP surgeries, transport infrastructure and the rest. However, if development happens at random and outside the local plan process, as proposed in this clause, that could lead to significant infrastructure shortfalls in local areas, with associated negative impacts on communities and potentially increasing community resistance to new development.

Criticisms were made of this clause at Second Reading but, given the scope of the Bill and the length of time allowed to Ministers for winding up, my noble friend was understandably unable to address them then. I know he will want to do so today. I think I have said enough to indicate that, in the words of Sir Humphrey, this is a brave initiative. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young. I will speak to our Amendments 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256 and 257 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman. A number of those amendments echo the concerns of the noble Lord. It is important to place on record that the clause to which amendments in this group refer was not in the Bill when it was debated in the other place, so it has not had the kind of scrutiny you would expect for a proposal of this kind. Therefore, it is right that your Lordships’ House gives this clause and the amendments submitted very careful consideration.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young, that the progress of this proposal straight into primary legislation is unusual to say the least—I would call it inexplicable. I have much sympathy with his comments that, were the street votes part of a consideration that the planning and development committees took into account, that might be a different issue. However, from the proposal in the Bill it seems that they are intended to sit outside that.

In recent decades, changes to the planning system have meant that local people and, on occasion, local councillors have felt that they have little say or control over what happens in their area due to a combination of permitted development, changes to use classes—meaning, for example, that there is little to stop your high street being dominated by betting shops and vape stores—the prevalence of conversions to houses of multiple occupation, which puts particular pressure on infrastructure and parking and can change the character of neighbourhoods, and the hollowing out of so many coastal and rural areas as family homes become holiday and Airbnb lets. We have heard powerful advocacy for the role of neighbourhood forums and town and parish councils in previous debates on the Bill. There is undoubtedly something of a community engagement vacuum in the delivery of new homes which the advocates of street votes believe they can help fill.

As a member of the Co-operative Party, a sister party to the Labour Party, and a former chair of the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network, I have spent more than 10 years promoting and supporting greater engagement of residents and communities in the decisions taken on their behalf, so we absolutely support the principle sitting behind the street votes proposition. I am very grateful to Samuel Hughes from Create Streets, who took a great deal of time to brief me and my noble friend Lady Hayman and kindly provided us with a background briefing on street votes.

The problem with the clause as drafted is that it is very thin on detail, not least any detailed definition of “gentle densification”, which we have heard so much about during the Bill. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that it will be in the regulations or the National Planning Policy Framework, but in this case it is particularly important to understand how the system of street votes will work. Even their most passionate advocates feel that there is room for more clarity in the Bill.

Our amendments in this group attempt to understand how this detail and some of the potential complications will be resolved. As an example, although greenbelt, areas of outstanding national beauty and historic buildings are expressly excluded, there is no mention of conservation areas.

In his article, which is generally very positive about street votes, the designer Alastair Parvin points out that, when you start thinking about the detail of how they might work, it is not hard to see how it could all go very wrong. Those of us who have been involved in planning will feel the same trepidation that what seems, on the face of it, like a move towards community engagement, development and an ultimate expression of street democracy, may also need to be particularly well thought through in advance to avoid the obvious potential pitfalls.

The system of local authority planning may seem bureaucratic, complex and too slow, but you could argue that it is developed that way to ensure, for example, that experts in planning, law and finance are involved, that there is transparency in the process, that decisions are properly debated and recorded, and that there are proper voting procedures, appeals processes and declarations of interest. As Alastair Parvin notes, to even think about the idea of every street in the UK emulating this way of working, appointing an urban designer, holding consultations, drawing up a valid design code, having it checked against local policies, revising it, holding committees, leafleting, then organising a referendum, is utterly exhausting and could be expensive in time and money. It could also add a significant potential burden on to local planning departments that are already feeling overstretched. He also points out that community politics can be, at best, dominated by those with the loudest voices and, at worst, pretty toxic, with the potential for style wars or tribalism to develop, or those who are fixated about parking to take over—in my experience, there are plenty of them. I loved his line,

“we’re talking about doing design-by-committee with Alan Partridge on the committee”.

How do we ensure that those participating are not being coerced or receiving financial inducements, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable? Street votes will also have to take into account that, while many places in the UK may have well-defined streets, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, pointed out, some do not. There have a variety of layouts, types and styles, with perhaps less well-defined groupings or boundaries. Some of you may be familiar with Radburn layouts that are common in first-generation new towns, where houses that appear to be on one street are actually in three different streets.

It is important that we note the comments of the Local Government Association, which were quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Young. It says that it wants to work with government to enhance opportunities for engagement and reach a wider audience within the process of developing local plans, and that is the key to the answer here. Amendment 248, in the names of noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is welcome and very straightforward, and we would certainly support that amendment to bring clarity to the precedence of the local plan, should the outcome of a street vote conflict with that.

My noble friend Baroness Hayman’s first amendment ensures that residents who have a recent connection with the area are included in street votes. We are very grateful to Generation Rent for its proposals in this respect. It makes the valid point that street votes must work for renters as well as owner-occupiers. Part of the answer, which is included in the Bill, is to enfranchise residents, not owners, so that tenants have as much democratic say as owner-occupiers, and absentee landlords are not further empowered over tenants’ homes. However, we agree with Generation Rent that this is not enough in itself so, before any homeowner or landlord can redevelop with permissions issuing from a street vote, any tenant resident in the building over the past two years must have consented. The alternative could be that landlords could refund 12-months’ rent or give their tenants 12 months’ notice. The Bill is very light on issues affecting tenants in this way, which is why we hope that our amendment will redress that balance.

Amendment 250, in the name of my noble friend Baroness Hayman, relates to the important issue of voting thresholds. We believe that it is important that it is a very high proportion; we would suggest two-thirds of total residents should support the proposals, not just a majority of those who turn out to vote. This ensures that developers cannot try to game the process and proposals can pass only if they have the overwhelming support of local people.

Create Streets, working with London forums and the Community Planning Alliance, also suggests two further safeguards—first, requiring that a resident in at least half of eligible households vote in favour, and second, that at least half of those registered to vote at the addresses on the street for at least three years must vote in favour. We would like to see this detail in the Bill but, if not, perhaps it could be considered for any subsequent statutory instrument.

Amendment 251, again in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman, probes the possibility of residents agreeing a code of construction practice for a development. This would ensure that communities can choose patterns of development that are minimally disruptive to them and best suited to their needs and priorities. We understand the Government may be considering including this provision in secondary legislation, but it too could easily be provided in the Bill. Doing so would provide assurance that it could not be overlooked subsequently and that a full range of tools and safeguards for the community would be provided.

Our Amendment 254 refers to biodiversity targets. We believe that the kind of development enabled by street votes could be a huge improvement in relation to biodiversity occurring on brownfield sites, relieving the pressure on the countryside and relying on public transport rather than new road infrastructure. To ensure that street votes deliver on this potential, all development through street votes should be required to meet the national 10% biodiversity net-gain target. For technical legal reasons, this requires some adaptation of existing regulations to ensure they apply correctly to development permitted through street votes. There is a clause for this in the Bill, allowing the Secretary of State to make provisions modifying or excluding the application of Schedule 7A, on biodiversity gain in England. However, as drafted, it would allow the Government not only to modify biodiversity net-gain regulations so that they apply to street vote development, but to exempt street vote development from those regulations. This could be precluded by an amendment saying that the Secretary of State should have power to modify the regulations but only in ways that do not make them less strict than they were had the development been permitted through the normal planning system.

Amendment 255 is to probe what engagement has been done with the Association of Electoral Administrators in relation to street votes. This association, as we all know, can provide expert advice on how the types of electoral process that may be necessary for street votes could be conducted. They will also be able to liaise with teams across the country in councils that may need to be involved. These teams are generally small and highly skilled groups of council officers, and it would be important, as with many other consultations with the professionals involved with this process, to assess any potential impact on them of the street votes proposal.

I have mentioned the potential for conflicts of interest to arise in relation to street votes, as it does with all planning matters; in local authorities, these issues are taken especially seriously in relation to planning. Our Amendment 256, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman, probes how this will be dealt with in relation to street votes. For example, would declarations be necessary if one of the residents of the street was likely to be a developer engaged in building out the proposed development? What land ownership declarations would need to be made so that all residents understood where there might be a disproportionate benefit to one particular resident or group of residents? We would also understand the sentiment behind Amendment 253A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who made such an eloquent case for neighbourhood forums on Tuesday. We agree that setting neighbourhood forums up to go head-to-head with street votes may have the exact opposite effect than joining communities together for a harmonious approach to planning, which is surely what the Bill intends to do.