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Lords Chamber

Volume 832: debated on Wednesday 6 September 2023

House of Lords

Wednesday 6 September 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Report (6th Day)

Relevant documents: 24th and 39th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.

Schedule 7: Plan making

Amendment 193

Moved by

193: Schedule 7, page 347, line 17, at end insert—

“(3A) The local plan must identify the strategic priorities of the local planning authority for meeting housing needs and for addressing the economic, social and environmental issues affecting the authority’s area.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would require plan-making to include the strategic priorities of the authority.

My Lords, I reiterate at the outset that I have a registered interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum.

Amendments 193 and 194 introduce this group. We are discussing the structure of plan-making in Schedule 7, which replaces Sections 15 to 37 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 as amended. With Amendment 193, I wanted to take the opportunity to explore some interesting changes—I do not know how significant they are and that is what I hope we can determine—between what is to be found in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act as it stands and what is proposed in Schedule 7.

The amendment would require that the strategic priorities of an authority for development in its area be identified. The key word here is “strategic”. Section 19(1B) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act as it stands says:

“Each local planning authority must identify the strategic priorities for the development and use of land in the authority’s area”,

and it continues in the next subsection:

“Policies to address those priorities must be set out in the local planning authority’s development plan”.

That legislation as it stands leads directly into the National Planning Policy Framework. We will talk about the relationship between the NPPF and the Bill on a number of occasions today. In this instance, when the Government published the consultation draft of the NPPF in December, they retained in it the distinction between strategic priorities and policies and non-strategic policies. For example, paragraph 17 of the consultation draft on behalf of the Government—although we have not seen the final version—states:

“The development plan must include strategic policies to address each local planning authority’s priorities for the development and use of land in its area”.

Paragraph 21 states:

“Plans should make explicit which policies are strategic policies”.

The footnote to paragraph 21 states:

“Where a single local plan is prepared the non-strategic policies should be clearly distinguished from the strategic policies”.

So my starting point is that the NPPF distinguishes between strategic and non-strategic policies but the Bill does not—it just refers to “policies”. New Section 15C(3) in Schedule 7 states:

“The local plan must set out policies of the local planning authority (however expressed) in relation to the amount, type and location of, and timetable for, development in the local planning authority’s area”.

My purpose in Amendment 193 is essentially to ask the Minister the following questions. Why has the distinction between strategic policies and priorities and non-strategic policies been removed from the Bill? That being the case, will the National Planning Policy Framework be redrafted and revised to remove that distinction? My contention is that the distinction is important, not least because we are looking for the local plan to be strategic in nature rather than bogged down in detail.

Strategic policies are needed if the local plan is to look at these 15 years ahead. As the NPPF stresses, where large settlements and new settlements are concerned, this may be at least 30 years ahead, and strategic policies are required for that. That raises the question: why is the requirement for strategic priorities and policies being removed from the statute on which the NPPF should be based? Which way is it going to work? Is the NPPF going to change, or should we not adopt Amendment 193 and include the word “strategic” in the requirements on local planning authorities?

Amendment 194 is a little simpler. It would insert into the requirements for local authorities, when presenting their priorities, a requirement to recognise the importance of economic development. The NPPF as it stands does that but, when it talks about what is to be put into plans, it has housing, employment, leisure and so on but does not specify how important it is that the economic objective of sustainable development be accompanied by strategic policies to identify the need not just for employment sites but for businesses to grow, and the potential for inward investment into an authority’s area.

That is important and is often significantly overlooked in plan-making. To that extent, too great and exclusive attention is paid—not that it is not important—to the allocation of sites for residential and housing development, when often the starting point for whether housing is required in an area is its rate of employment growth. Determining the allocation and spatial strategy for the economy and employment in an area is at least as important as the requirement for housing. Amendment 194 would bring that firmly into the plan-making process as a strategic priority. I beg to move Amendment 193.

My Lords, Amendment 193A, in my name, would require local plans to spell out the housing needs of the locality and set out how, over time, those needs can be met and homelessness and the use of temporary accommodation can be ended. There is a clear problem in that, at present, local plans are not required to factor in homelessness and social housing waiting lists. This means that the extent of housing problems and true housing need in a local authority area are not always reflected. Surely, including provisions to address these housing needs should be a basic component in a local plan; that is common sense.

Without this, there is far less of an incentive for local authorities to address the true extent of housing need in their area. The Bill currently permits local plans to include, among many other things, requirements for affordable housing. This amendment would replace this somewhat vague and light-touch permissive approach with a duty to be clear, both on the scale of local housing problems and the housing provisions that will address them.

I pay tribute to Shelter colleagues for their work on this amendment, which has the backing of a wide range of organisations concerned not only with the nearly 250,000 people who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation, but the 1.2 million households languishing on waiting lists for an affordable home. The planning system must be a key factor in making housing policies work for these households. Recognising their needs explicitly in all local plans would be a positive step forward.

In giving emphasis to meeting affordable housing need, the amendment specifies that provision must be made in the local plan

“for sufficient social rent housing”.

In an upcoming amendment, we will look at the need for a new definition of “affordable housing”. In this amendment, we go with the term “social rent”, which refers to the rents that meet the rent standards set by the social housing regulator. These are the rents for most existing council and housing association homes, rather than the appreciably higher so-called affordable rents linked to market rents.

Social rent homes which are secure, decent and affordable are badly needed, and the amendment gives these the priority they deserve. With this amendment in place, every local planning authority would be empowered to take a firm line with the housebuilders in securing the delivery of genuinely affordable new homes. The authority could be more insistent on all developers meeting their obligations and it would be much more difficult for recalcitrant housebuilders to renege on the delivery of affordable housing agreements. With its local plan clearly establishing the amount and type of affordable housing that needs to be provided, the local authority would have greater credibility and authority in seeking support from central government, Homes England or the GLA for the funding it badly needs for its social housing.

This is not the moment to emphasise the urgency of ensuring that the affordable housing provision in each locality at least starts to match the need for it—there is so much to do—but utilising the key planning tool of the local plan and the delivery strategies that flow from it would represent a vital step in making this happen. This amendment would make a reality of that opportunity. I hope noble Lords will join me in voting for the amendment if the Minister is unable to offer her support for it.

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 199 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I apologise to the House for not being here on Monday—another failed transport from the Isles of Scilly. I would have supported Amendment 191, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and Amendment 190, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill.

My amendment follows on from that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—and other future comments, I think. It refers to cycling, walking and rights of way and their incorporation, or not, in development plans. We have heard quite a lot already about whether there is or should be a link between plans and strategies for housing, the economy and active travel. It is all getting quite complicated. I want to put the case for walking and cycling to be included in a way which actually works.

This amendment is supported by a long list of eminent organisations: the Bicycle Association, the Bikeability Trust, British Cycling, Cycling UK, Living Streets, the Ramblers, and Sustrans. It covers what we might call active travel in its widest sense—in the city, in the countryside, going to work and school, and for leisure. This very important issue needs to be addressed, partly so that we can encourage more environmentally friendly travel generally.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned the NPPF being a problem. It is a problem for that active travel group and for the Walking and Cycling Alliance, because in the Commons debate the Government suggested that the concern of that group would best be dealt with through the NPPF rather than through legislation. However, as I think the noble Lord referred to, the draft NPPF did not include any new policies on these issues and put it into the further-action box on sustainable transport and active travel. NPPFs have been around for some time, but they take an awfully long time to get through, probably for good reasons. Now is the time to try to find a better way of including these policies in the Bill, and I hope that the Minister, when she responds, will support the concept at least.

I apologise to the House for that. The amendment aims to address the problem of local planning authorities unwittingly, and I think occasionally intentionally,

“frustrating a higher-tier authority’s aspirations for walking, cycling or rights of way networks”.

We must not forget the rights of way, because you cannot walk or cycle if rights of way get blocked. The problem is in not recording those network aspirations in authorities’ own development plans,

“thereby failing to safeguard land for those networks, to connect new development with existing networks and/or to secure developer contributions to implement or upgrade specific routes”.

I will give examples. It is probably worse with two-tier authorities. Where the local transport or highway authority, which is usually a county council or combined authority, is not the same body as the local planning authority, you can have this example, which Sustrans exposed. The alliance says that

“one part of a unitary authority commissioned Sustrans to assess the feasibility of re-opening a disused railway line as a walking and cycling route, yet another part of the same authority then gave permission for a housing development which blocked that disused railway line before Sustrans had completed the study. In another case, planning permission was granted by a local planning authority for development which adversely impacted a section of the National Cycle Network (which Sustrans manages), with planning officers unaware of the existence and importance of this walking, wheeling and cycling route”.

This is confusing for local authorities, especially when they are probably very short of resources, as many noble Lords have said on previous amendments. I think the Government believe that our concerns about lack of co-ordination would best be addressed through the NPPF, but that does not mention it, and it omits other things altogether. Unless we get something here that links granting planning permission with taking account of adequate provision for walking, cycling and rights of way, we are in trouble.

I will give one other example before I conclude. In a recent case in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, the local planning authority considered a housing development close to the town centre and railway station. The council officials pressed for the development to include walking and cycling routes to facilitate access to, from and through the development, and obviously to and from the station. However, when the committee was due to consider the application, the developer made a submission claiming that the walking and cycling routes would render the developments economically unviable, and the councillors accepted that view without really challenging it. I have cycled on many cycle routes that probably suffer from the same failure by a developer to provide a proper, sensible route, because it tried to persuade the planning authority that it would be all right on the night, and it is not always.

I hope that the Government will support this amendment. Active Travel England is involved in this, and I certainly welcome what it is planning to do. However, it will often be consulted only at a later stage, and it would be much better if the relevant authorities’ walking, cycling and rights of way network plans were clearly shown in development plans from the outset.

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 199 on cycling in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I will follow briefly in his slipstream, if I may.

I am grateful to the Minister for the Teams meeting that she held on this subject at the end of last month to find common ground. Throughout our debates on the Bill, the Government have suggested that our objectives could be better met through NPPFs rather than through legislation. But throughout the debate there has been some scepticism about that, as there is ample evidence that leaving things to guidance does not actually produce the results.

The NPPF guidance on cycling was last revised in 2018, but there is a real problem with that guidance, and I hope that my noble friend can give me some assurance. One paragraph of that guidance said:

“Development should only be prevented or refused on highways grounds if there would be an unacceptable impact on highway safety, or the residual cumulative impacts on the road network would be severe”.

This paragraph makes it very difficult for local planning authorities to refuse developments whose location or design fails adequately to support walking, cycling and other sustainable transport modes. If we are to rely on future NPPFs, can my noble friend give me an assurance that that provision will be removed, because it stands in the way of many of the Bill’s objectives?

The final point raised in the Teams meeting was one that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just mentioned: the conflict between upper and lower-tier authorities. At the meeting, my noble friend was good enough to say that she would have another look at this and would perhaps be able to respond on it.

I very much welcome what has been said—that Active Travel England is now a statutory consultee—but it would be better if it could be involved at an earlier stage of the proposals, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, rather than at a later stage, when it would be difficult to retrofit the provisions for cycling that we would all want to see. I hope that my noble friend the Minister is able to provide some reassurance on those two points.

My Lords, in view of the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I will be much briefer than I intended, so we might ramble around a little.

On Amendments 193 and 194 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, I absolutely understand his points and will await the Minister’s answer on the reasons for that omission from the Bill. I have to confess to the noble Lord to having made the assumption that they would be in the Bill. In fact, reading through this section, I thought “Why are people putting down these amendments? Aren’t they what people already do in a good local plan?”, so I am grateful for his attention to detail.

I agree with the noble Lord’s portrayal of the plan as tending to be around sites and location. Unfortunately, this is largely driven by public opinion. On a local plan, most consultation is on the site-specific thing, yet answering the big question—where do we want our towns to be in five, 10 and 20 years’ time?—is surely the most exciting thing you can do with a community. I hope the Bill encourages us to do that. I genuinely do not know how any local authority could begin its plan without the starting point being its strategic priorities.

Likewise, on Amendment 199, on which my noble friend Lady Pinnock will speak, how can you consider land use if you do not know what your major infra-structure needs are—from big schemes such as railway schemes down to walking routes and joining up cycle routes? It is really important. My one question to the Minister is: surely, without those key policies, a plan would not be found sound.

I turn to Amendment 193A. As ever, the case has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, so I will scrap my next bit and say that the evidence is huge. The real need is to deliver at volume and at speed. It is still a surprise to me that the only statutory provision for accommodation that a council has to make is for Gypsies and Travellers. I understand and recognise why there was a need to do that. Some authorities were just denying their obligation to this community and leaving it to others. Of course, we know that still happens, which is why I seek clarity from the Minister on how local need will be assessed in the future and how need will be defined in the plan. Will it simply be a number-of-units game or, being blunt, can we look at how we can avoid the attitude of “We don’t have that problem here, so we don’t need to provide”? The subtext is that they will go to the council next door. Noble Lords can fill in their own groups of residents who are often ignored, which sometimes includes social housing tenants.

I come to my most serious point. Given the scale of the housing problem, surely it is time for a Government to be bold enough to put social housing on a statutory footing and then conceive a plan to deliver at scale and pace.

My Lords, I just wish to speak to Amendment 199 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I repeat my relevant interests at the outset: I am a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Unfortunately, our wonderful expert on all things transport, my noble friend Lady Randerson, is unable attend this morning but what I shall say comes after having discussed this with her. On this side, we totally support Amendment 199. It is reasonable and filled with sensible caveats such as “so far as relevant” and “must … have regard to”. It is something that local planning authorities can work with but should stimulate to them to ensure that they think of travel from the start and incorporate it into their strategic policies and the local plan. Tacking it on later is never as effective. Doing it that way also ensures that there is integration between different layers of local government, which do not always work perfectly together, as we have heard throughout discussions on the Bill.

Something has to be done. At the moment Governments are failing on the targets. We will have a further discussion on targets in another group but this is about travel targets—cycling and walking targets. The target set in 2017 is for 46% of urban journeys to be walking or cycling, but all activity levels are now lower than when the target was set. For instance, the number of children who walk to school has fallen below 50%. Public rights of way, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, are constantly under threat from developers who regard them as an obstacle rather than—as they should be—a benefit. PROW diversions created by developers are often far less attractive than the original. That, too, is discouraging for those who want to walk. Urgent attention is needed—not more targets but practical steps such as those proposed in this amendment to incorporate active travel into the fundamental fabric of urban and rural planning for the future.

My Lords, Amendments 193 and 194 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, introduce sensible additions to Schedule 7 on the content of plans. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, reminded us on Monday, just because Ministers assume that something will happen, that is no reason for leaving it out of the Bill. One would assume that any local planning authority would include such vital matters as meeting housing need and the economic, social and environmental needs of its area in its plan, as well as identifying appropriate sites. I agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, in that regard. Putting this in the Bill makes sure that it happens.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was right to draw attention to the distinction between strategic and non-strategic priorities, which will become ever more important as these strategic policies are considered by a potential combined authority for the joint strategic development strategies. If they are not set out clearly in plans, how will the combined authorities identify them and make sure that they take account of them in the wider plan?

Amendment 193A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, goes to the heart of a huge lost opportunity in the Bill, as currently structured, to make a real difference in addressing the housing emergency we face in this country. The figures have been much debated in this Chamber, in Committee on the Bill and in many other debates on housing, but it is a scandal that over a million families are still on social rented housing registers around the UK. With the current rate of building—just 6,000 a year according to Shelter—few of those families stand a chance of ever having the secure, affordable and sustainable tenancy they need.

This problem is now exacerbated by rising mortgage interest rates resulting in many private landlords deciding to sell the properties they were renting out and their tenants coming to local authorities to seek rehoming. Commentators in the sector say that this could affect as many as one in three privately rented properties. The figures are stark. Worked examples show that rents may have to increase by at least £300 a month. For landlords and tenants also facing other elements of the cost of living crisis, this kind of increase in costs is untenable.

The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, proposes that local plans should link the provision of social housing to the provision of adequate housing for those registered with the local authority. This should be a minimum. I think the noble Lord described it as a duty to be clear about the scale of the housing problem and I totally agree. As we all know only too well, the unmet need for social housing also includes many families not on those registers. We will have a later debate about the definition of “affordable housing”, but social housing in particular merits special treatment in how it is addressed by local plans. For some families, it is the only form of tenure that will ever meet their needs. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the importance of putting social housing priorities into the planning process, so if he chooses to test the opinion of the House on this matter, he will have our support.

Government Amendment 197 is a helpful clarification that neighbourhood plans cannot supersede the local development plan in relation to either housing development or environmental outcome reports. I was very pleased to see Amendment 199 from my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Lord, Lord Young. As a fortunate resident of a new town designed with the great foresight to incorporate 45 kilometres of cycleways, thanks to the vision of Eric Claxton and our other early designers, I can clearly see the importance of incorporating this infrastructure at the local plan stage.

The experience of Stevenage is that, unless the infrastructure makes it easier to cycle and walk than to jump in a car, the latter will prevail. Our cycleways are only now coming into their own and being thought of as the precious resource that they are, so the vision to include them was very much ahead of its time. It is important that careful thought is given, in all development, to the relative priorities of motor vehicles and cycling and walking.

As my noble friend Lord Berkeley outlined, this amendment is well supported by the Better Planning Coalition and the Walking and Cycling Alliance, which says that embedding cycling and walking in development plans would

“help safeguard land … that could form useful walking and cycling routes, while ensuring that new developments are well-connected to such routes, and securing developer contributions for new or improved walking and cycling provision”.

It cites examples—they were adequately quoted by my noble friend Lord Berkeley, so I will not repeat them—of how this has not been the case in the past. I agree with my noble friend that the consultation on the NPPF makes no mention of, never mind giving priority to, local cycling and walking infrastructure plans. It makes no mention at all of rights of way improvement plans.

On Monday, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned the new role for Active Travel England as a statutory consultee in planning matters, but surely this amendment would strengthen its role by ensuring that cycling and walking are considered for every development, so that it can focus on the detail of those plans.

Government Amendments 201B, 201C and 201D are very concerning. They represent sweeping powers for combined county authorities to take over the powers of local councils in relation to making and/or revising local plans. Alongside the government proposals that the representatives of local councils will have no voting rights on combined county authorities, this represents yet another huge undermining of the role of local democratically elected institutions in favour of combined county authorities, which are indirectly elected, which may have voting representatives who have no democratic mandate at all and which operate at a considerable distance from the front line of the communities that will be affected by the decisions they are making.

In the debate on Monday, the Minister said that these new powers will be used only in extremis, but one can envisage situations where they could be used for political purposes. I raise the importance of this issue from a background of long experience of plan-making in two-tier areas and the complexities that that brings. On Monday, I mentioned that it was our local MP who held up our local plan for over a year by calling it in to the Secretary of State. Would this, for example, give a CCA grounds to initiate its power grab for the planning powers? If that were the case, you could see this being a very slippery slope indeed. What discussions has the Secretary of State undertaken with the sector on these proposed powers? These powers, like so much else in the Bill, seem to move us ever further away from the devolution and agency for local people that were espoused at the introduction of the White Paper.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has done a tremendously good forensic job of disclosing the fact that there is an omission—possibly accidental—connecting the whole planning process as far as non-domestic strategic direction is concerned. I look forward to the Minister’s explanation for that and perhaps to her coming back with a correction at a later stage.

The Liberal Democrats will certainly support the noble Lord, Lord Best, if he puts his proposition to the House. There is no doubt at all that it is absolutely necessary to tackle the severe problem of the lack of affordability in the rented sector. It is understood clearly by all that developing the social rented sector is the way to go—this surely must be taken into account in all plan-making. The noble Lord made a valid point about those who are homeless. This is a rising number of people and there is a reluctance among many local authorities to undertake the formidable task of dealing with the circumstances that they face.

Certainly, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Pinnock about active travel are important. I await the Minister agreeing that the connection on this between policy and the NPPF, and between policy and plan-making, needs to be corrected in the direction that this amendment sets out.

I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, said about the power grab involved in the Minister’s amendments and I query the wording used. Amendment 201B states that

“the Secretary of State may invite the combined county authority to take over preparation of the local plan”.

Can combined county authorities politely decline that invitation if it is extended? I can imagine a number of reasons why they might do that. Chief of those is resource constraints: many combined county authorities, or components of them, are on the brink of bankruptcy and they might not wish to take on an additional challenging function for which they have no capacity or capability. The authorities into whose territory they would trespass are also often in a parlous situation as far as resources go. Not everyone wants to take over Wilko and it is quite understandable that this “may invite” provision will be regarded askance by not just the district councils but the combined county authorities. I would like to understand more clearly what the Minister intends the process to be. If she says, “They could decline or politely refuse”, then what is the alternative plan? This is a new power that has unforeseen consequences, most of which seem to point in a damaging direction. More uncertainty about this “may invite” provision seems to compound that. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says.

My Lords, Amendments 193 and 194 in the name of my noble friend, Lord Lansley, seek to require plan-making to include the strategic priorities of the authority and to ensure that a local plan can include policies relating to achieving sustainable economic growth. The Government want the planning system to be truly plan-led, to give communities more certainty.

The Bill provides clear requirements for what future local plans must include. This replaces the complex existing framework, which includes the requirement at Section 19(1B) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for authorities to

“identify the strategic priorities for the development and use of land”

in their areas. There is nothing in the Bill to stop authorities including strategic priorities and policies in future local plans. Indeed, our recently published consultation on implementing our plan-making reforms proposes that plans will need to contain a locally distinct vision that will anchor them, provide strategic direction for the underpinning policies and set out measurable outcomes for the plan period. Likewise, on the specific subject of sustainable economic growth, we are retaining the current legal requirement in Section 39 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 for authorities to prepare plans with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

My noble friend Lord Lansley asked why the distinction between strategic and non-strategic was removed and whether the NPPF will be redrafted to reflect this. That distinction derives from previous legislation on plans, which the Bill will replace with clearer requirements to identify the scale and nature of development needed in an area. The NPPF will be updated to reflect the legislation, subject to the Bill gaining Royal Assent. In light of this, I hope that my noble friend will feel able not to press his amendment.

I turn now to Amendment 193A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best. This amendment seeks to require local plans to plan for enough social-rented housing to eliminate homelessness in the area. National planning policy is clear that local plans should, as a minimum, provide for objectively assessed needs for housing. In doing so, local authorities should assess the size, type and tenure of housing needed for different groups in the community, including those who require affordable housing. This should then be reflected in their planning policies. The Government are committed to delivering more homes for social rent, with a large number of new homes from the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme to be for social rent. We are also carefully considering the consultation responses to our proposal to amend national planning policy to make clear that local planning authorities should give greater importance in planning for social rent homes.

Tackling homelessness and rough sleeping is a key priority for this Government. That is why we will be spending more than £2 billion on homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years. The Homelessness Reduction Act, which the noble Lord, Lord Best, was so influential in bringing forward, is the most ambitious reform to homelessness legislation in decades. Since it came into force in 2018, more than 640,000 households have been prevented from becoming homeless or supported into settled accommodation. We know that the causes of homelessness are complex and are driven by a range of factors, both personal and structural, and I fear that creating a link between local plans and homelessness reduction would add more complexity.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, asked why we cannot recognise housing need in local plans, particularly homelessness and affordable housing. The Bill already requires that plans set out policies for the amount, type and location of the development needed. I feel that it is a local issue, and the best way to ensure that we get the amount of particular housing needed in a particular area is for it to be put into local plans by local councils talking to local people. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, asked how local needs are going to be assessed in the future and how they will be defined. This is another matter that will be considered when we update national policy. We need flexibility to address changes in circumstances, which is why policy is the best approach to this, rather than looking for definitions in legislation.

I move now to Amendment 199 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. I thank the noble Lords for their amendment on this important matter. We recognise the importance of walking and cycling, and the role the planning system plays in enabling the infrastructure which supports active forms of travel. National planning policies must be considered by local authorities when preparing a development plan and are a material consideration in planning decisions. The Bill does not alter this principle and would 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. Proposals in walking and cycling plans are also capable of being material considerations in dealing with planning applications, whether or not they are embedded in local plans. Indeed, the decision-maker must take all material considerations into account, so there is no need to make additional provision in law as this amendment proposes.

The Government are delivering updates to the Manual for Streets guidance to encourage a more holistic approach to street design which assigns higher priorities to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. We are also working closely with colleagues in the Department for Transport to ensure local transport plans are better aligned with the wider development plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, asked if the NPPF policy requiring a high bar to refuse proposals on transport grounds will be changed. As he knows, we have committed to a full review of the NPPF, part of which will need to look at all the aspects of policy, including how best to provide for walking and cycling.

I move now to government Amendments 196C, 196D, 201B, 201C and 201D. These are consequential on Clause 91 and Schedule 7 to the Bill which, when commenced, will introduce a new development plans system. They amend and supplement consequential amendments to Schedule A1 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 made by Schedule 4 to the Bill relating to the creation of combined county authorities. The Schedule 4 amendments will mean that combined county authorities will be in the same position as the Mayor of London, county councils and combined authorities are currently in relation to the ability of the Secretary of State to invite those bodies to take over plan-making where a constituent planning authority is failing in its plan-making activities. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked what will happen if they do not want to do so. I do not think we can force them, but there are a couple of things we can do if local authorities are not producing local plans in a timely manner or at all. For example, there will be a commissioner who could take over the production of the plans, or the Secretary of State could take that into his own hands. We are not going to force them, but it will be an offer they can make in order that their county combined authorities have the correct plans in place to shape their communities in the correct way.

In light of the new plan-making system being introduced by the Bill, a number of consequential amendments to Schedule A1 to the 2004 Act are already provided for by Schedule 8 to the Bill. Broadly speaking, they will update Schedule A1 to ensure that the provisions can operate within the new plan-making system. As such, in light of these wider reforms, these further amendments are needed to ensure that the new provisions which Schedule 4 to the Bill will insert into Schedule A1 are updated accordingly when the new plan-making system comes into effect. I hope noble Lords will support these minor and consequential changes.

Finally, the Bill ensures that neighbourhood plans will continue to play an important role in the planning system and encourage more people to participate in neighbourhood planning. For example, it will mean that future decisions on planning applications will be able to depart from plans, including neighbourhood plans, only if there are strong reasons to do so. While the Bill retains the existing framework of powers for neighbourhood planning, it will also provide more clarity on the scope of neighbourhood plans alongside other types of development plan. It amends the list of basic conditions set out in Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 which new neighbourhood development plans and orders must meet before they can be brought into force.

Amendment 197 would make corresponding changes to the basic conditions set out in paragraph 11(2) of Schedule A2 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 so that the same conditions apply when an existing neighbourhood development plan is being modified. These changes are necessary to ensure that these neighbourhood plans receive consistent treatment.

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who participated in this rather important debate. From my point of view, in considering whether strategic policies should be distinguished from non-strategic policies in plan-making, I asked my noble friend a question and I got a reply. It is an interesting reply because by simply asserting that the local plan must include, in effect, all policies, my noble friend is saying that that is clearer than the present structure which distinguishes between strategic policies and non-strategic policies.

Noble Lords may say that we are all dancing on the head of a pin—I do not think so. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, made an extremely good point: identifying strategic priorities in a local planning authority’s local plan is a key component of creating spatial development strategies in a broader area. That would be extremely helpful.

None the less, what my noble friend has told me is going to be an interesting conclusion for people to draw. We are now told that the consultation draft of the National Planning Policy Framework, which was published on 22 December following the passage of this Bill in the other place, did not take account of what is in the Bill. This is rather interesting. It means that if we change the Bill, we can change the NPPF—which, from the point of view of my noble friend’s and other amendments, is a very helpful thought that we might take up. I do not think that the revisions that will follow to the NPPF will be as wide ranging as my noble friend implied, because that would mean that they would do away with much of what is written presently into the chapter on plan-making.

In the cycling and walking debate on Amendment 199, it might be helpful for my noble friend Lord Young to recognise that the latter part of the NPPF relating to how development proposals are to be considered, and how walking, cycling and active travel are to be incorporated, will no doubt form part of the new national development management policies. Therefore, how it is written will require local plans and the determination of planning applications to accord with how that is written, so the language of the NPPF, if it turns into NDMPs, is terribly important. They were right to focus on that point.

When they come to write the NPPF, which clearly will now have to be substantially rewritten, I hope that my noble friend and the Front Bench will pick up the point about economic growth and put it into the terms that, I think we are more or less agreed, are required. My noble friend responded to the questions that I asked on Amendment 193, so on that basis I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 193 withdrawn.

Amendment 193A

Moved by

193A: Schedule 7, page 347, line 17, at end insert—

“(3A) The local plan must identify the local nature and scale of housing need in the local planning authority’s area and must make provision for sufficient social rent housing, to eliminate homelessness within a reasonable period as stipulated in the updated local plan, and to provide housing for persons registered on the local housing authority’s allocation scheme within the meaning of section 166A of the Housing Act 1996.(3B) Subsection (3A) applies in relation to social housing provided both by the local housing authority where it retains its own housing stock and by private registered providers of social housing.(3C) The information concerning the level of housing need recorded on the local plan must be updated at least annually.”

My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for their support for this amendment. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for their support, and for pointing out the urgency of the need for homelessness and those on waiting lists to be addressed, and the value of using the local plan to help in that process. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for her eloquent support. She made the point that, unfortunately, things are getting worse for those in the most acute need. I am afraid to say that the urgency for doing more grows daily, and this would be a helpful step in the right direction.

The Minister, who I know believes that local plans are a very important instrument in getting things changed and done, said that she very much agreed that this deserved priority. Indeed, the government consultation currently going on may lead to greater prominence being given to the needs of those who are homeless, in temporary accommodation or on a never-ending waiting list. She hopes that local planning authorities will do their best by that and include those things in local plans, but there is no obligation on them so to do. It is that obligation that this amendment would put into place. I am grateful for the support of all those colleagues, and the moment has come for me to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 194 not moved.

Amendment 194A

Moved by

194A: Schedule 7, page 347, line 38, at end insert—

“(6A) The local plan must take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to all or part of the local planning authority’s area, including in particular—(a) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(i) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(ii) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(b) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(c) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment requires a local plan to take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to any part of the area of the authority preparing the plan.

Amendment 194A agreed.

Amendment 195

Moved by

195: Schedule 7, page 347, line 38, at end insert—

“(6A) The local plan must be designed to secure that the supply of housing through development in the local planning authority’s area meets or exceeds the requirement for housing during the plan period which would be derived from the housing targets and standard method prescribed in guidance by the Secretary of State as applicable at that time.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would require a local plan to meet or exceed the housing need for the authority’s area as specified by Government targets.

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 195 in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Lansley, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.

For me, this is the most important group of amendments in the whole Bill; they go the heart of the question of whether one of the basic responsibilities of government is to ensure that the nation is adequately housed. I hope that it is common ground that there are some core functions of central government that it should not opt out of: ensuring that the country is well defended, that the streets are safe, that families have a basic income, that children are well educated, that there is access to a decent health service and that people are adequately housed. These are either provided centrally by government—defence, health and income support—or mandated to be provided by others, in the cases of policing, education and housing.

Basically, what happened last December was that housing was deleted as one of those core functions. It was done not as a considered act of policy but as a reaction to a group of Government Back-Benchers who were threatening to rebel. As a former Government Chief Whip, I am well aware of the importance of party cohesion—but not at any price. Yes, the nominal commitment remained with central government—the 300,000 housing target—but, crucially, the means for the Government to secure that target was removed. The targets became advisory, not mandatory: a starting point and not a destination.

The way the system has worked for as long as I can remember—going back to the days of the GLC in the 1960s, and to the 1980s when I was a Minister and SERPLAN—is that central government has formed a view of how many homes the country needs. It has looked at household formation, life expectancy, broader demographic trends, regional policy and net inward migration, and then come up with a global figure. That has then been divvied up between the planning authorities, after consultation, to underpin a credible national housing policy.

It should be immediately apparent that this is not a process that can be left to the discretion of local councillors. They look downwards to their electorate, to whom they are accountable, while national government has a broader responsibility. For example, left to their own devices, local authorities would make no provision for migration, which is a responsibility of national government. The noble Lord, Lord Best, will develop that point. As I have said repeatedly in this House, you cannot rely on the good will of local government to provide the homes that the country needs.

Before the policy was reversed, we were falling well short of our target. New homes granted planning permission declined to 269,000 in the year to March, down by 11% on the year to March 2022. After the reversal, the target becomes less achievable. The starkness of the climbdown was revealed in an article in the House magazine by Theresa Villiers, who referred to her amendment in the following terms:

“This was backed by 60 MPs, and in response, the secretary of state brought forward significant concessions to rebalance the planning system to give local communities greater control over what is built in their neighbourhood. That includes confirming that centrally determined housing targets are advisory not mandatory. They are a starting point, not an inevitable outcome. Changes have been promised to make it easier for councils to set a lower target”.

I believe that my colleagues in the other place have misread the politics. Yes, there is a risk of losing a few votes from those who do not wish to see development in their area—we saw the consequences of that in a by-election in Chesham and Amersham—but there is a much greater risk of losing far more votes in a general election if we are seen to be a party that is insensitive to the needs of those who need a decent home against a background of lengthening waiting lists, more use of temporary accommodation, rising rents in the private sector and home ownership becoming more difficult.

Our opponents in the main opposition party have spotted this weakness and will continue to exploit it until we put things right, which is what the amendment seeks to do—restoring what was government policy when the Bill was introduced, before the policy was ill-advisedly abandoned in December. There is a strong case for giving the other place an opportunity to reflect on this policy change now that we have seen its consequences. My noble friend Lord Lansley will develop that point.

The consequences were made clear in a unanimous report, published in July, from a Select Committee with a government majority. It said:

“The Government’s reform proposals include making local housing targets advisory and removing the need for local authorities to continually demonstrate a deliverable 5-year housing land supply. We have heard evidence from many stakeholders that these measures will render the national housing target impossible to achieve”.

It also said:

“This uncertainty has resulted in 58 local authorities stalling, delaying, or withdrawing their local plans to deliver housing—28 of those since the December 2022 announcement. Contrary to the Government’s objective of facilitating local plan-making, the short-term effect of announcing the planning reform proposals has been to halt the progress of local plans in many areas”.

Several authorities have stated that the reason for delaying their local plans is that they are waiting for the outcome of consultations. On that subject, the report concluded:

“In many cases, this will be on the understanding that they will no longer be required to meet their local housebuilding targets”.

The report further concluded that

“it is difficult to see how the Government will achieve its 300,000 net national housing target by the mid-2020s if local targets are only advisory. The Government has not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate how the policy of removing mandatory local housing targets will directly lead to more housebuilding”.

Before tabling this amendment, I did what I could to press the Government to think again. My noble friend has answered countless Questions on the 300,000 target; she can look forward to another next Tuesday. She has been generous and patient with her time in many meetings. I have seen the Secretary of State and his special adviser, and my noble friend Lord Lansley and I have seen the Housing Minister—all to no avail. Far from this amendment being contrary to government policy, it is essential if the Government are to meet their manifesto commitment of building 300,000 homes a year. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will think again. If not, I propose to test the opinion of the House.

My Lords, my name is down in support of Amendment 195, so brilliantly introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. It is also supported by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. The amendment would return us to the position whereby each local plan must be designed to secure enough homes to meet the target for the area set by government. I too see this as a matter of considerable significance.

In essence, this country needs to build at least 300,000 homes each year to ease the problems caused by acute housing shortages: overcrowding, homelessness, poverty and health inequalities. This national target will not be achieved by leaving the supply of sufficient homes to individual councils to determine. On its own, of course, the requirement on all local authorities to have local plans that together make provision for 300,000 homes will not mean that the planned-for number will necessarily be built. Market factors will affect private housebuilding. Insufficient government support will affect social housing output, and so on. If local plans do not plan for their share of the national total, it is certain that it will not be accomplished.

Many analysts suggest that the overall figure of 300,000 homes per annum is not enough. The Centre for Cities has explained that we would have another 4.3 million homes if we had matched the average rate of housebuilding of our European counterparts over recent decades. We have a massive catching-up job to do. The Centre for Policy Studies argues that 460,605 homes should have been added last year. The actual output was barely half this figure—235,000 net additions, including conversions of existing buildings. For the moment, 300,000 homes is a sensible, short-term target.

Why is it so improbable that this figure will be reached unless local planning authorities are obliged to meet housing targets? First, because a number of councils have already made clear that, if the decision on numbers is now in their hands, they will reduce the amount of development previously planned for. Even if only, say, a quarter of authorities opt to see fewer homes built, there will be a big undershoot of the grand total. Reducing acute shortages will then be even more difficult in future than it has been to date.

Secondly, nationally determined targets are necessary because—as I guess we all recognise—it is incredibly difficult for elected Members to champion new housebuilding in their areas. New housing is perceived as meaning more traffic, more pressure on services, disruption from construction and—although this may be an urban myth—a fall in house prices. It is also true that housebuilders have often singularly failed to create quality places. There is a long way to go in reforming that industry. These concerns do not mean that we can simply set aside the need for new homes.

The harsh fact is that where a councillor is likely to be voted out of office if they do not vociferously oppose new development, few will feel able to act in the interests of those who need a home but do not yet have a vote in that area. The structure of democracy at local level makes it nigh on impossible for representatives of local communities to act in the wider interests of those who do not live there.

Our planning system recognises that no one is keen to have a power station, airport or highways project on their doorstep. Nationally significant infrastructure projects are taken outside the remit of the local council. No one is suggesting the same approach for housing developments, even very large ones, but recognition should be given to what is in the national, rather than necessarily the local, interest. Securing sufficient new homes is a national priority and should be part of the national decision-making process.

This important amendment removes the unfair onus on local councillors to determine how many new homes their local plan should be designed to secure. It removes an unreasonable expectation that those who are—or hope to be—elected as local councillors will always do what is right for the next generation, the wider region and the country, rather than what the often vocal local electorate of here and now are demanding. I acknowledge that arguments can still rage over the methodology for setting housing targets and that there will rightly be lengthy consideration of exactly what gets built and where, but these are separate matters and do not affect the amendment before us. Rather, I warn that, without this change to the prevailing position, without decisions on overall numbers of new homes being taken at a higher level than the local planning authority, we will certainly not see 300,000 additional homes built each year. The horrendous housing shortage will get worse. I urge the Minister to accept this essential amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Young and the noble Lord, Lord Best —he is also my noble friend in this context—for introducing Amendment 195 so very well.

I want to add my threepennyworth in relation to not only Amendment 195 but Amendment 196; one might think of them as a package. They would require local planning authorities to meet or exceed the Government’s housing target—in so far as the Government have a housing target; we have debated the figure of 300,000, which is what the Government tell us their target is, but it could of course be different if they chose a different target because of their assessment of the demographic and other requirements—and to do this by reference to the standard method. I emphasise that this means whatever standard method is applicable at the time. Personally, I do not regard our current standard method as fit for purpose. There will need to be change. I have said before—let me repeat it briefly—that the relationship between the standard method process and the prospective increases in employment in an area should assume a greater weight in relation to the objectively assessed housing need.

These amendments are a package. Remember, in addition to Amendment 195, which we are debating first, Amendment 196 would require local planning authorities to have regard to the housing target or a standard method respectively. Of course, if Amendment 195 were to go to the Commons, Amendment 196 would go with it as a consequential amendment. The House of Commons would then have an opportunity to consider the questions of whether local planning authorities should have regard to the Government’s target and standard method—that is a bit of a no-brainer; of course they should—and of whether, in addition, they should be required to meet or exceed the resulting figure of objectively assessed housing need for an area. This is the debate that the House of Commons needs to have.

There are two groups of people who should vote for Amendments 195 and 196. There are those who just agree with the policy; I am among them. My noble friends have well set out the policy objective, which fundamentally comes down to this: if a Government have a target, they need to have a mechanism for delivering it. I have had these conversations, for which I am grateful, with the Housing Minister, my noble friend and the Secretary of State. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State in particular—I love him dearly—is trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. He is trying to give local planning authorities, in the minds of a minority of Conservative Members in the other place—I emphasise that it is not a majority but a minority—the freedom to have a different method and to think, “It’s a starting point but we can go south from this instead of north”. It is an opportunity for them to say, “We’ve got green belt, areas of natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest and sensitive areas. We don’t have to have the houses; they can all be somewhere else”.

In some cases, that will be true. Let me pick a place at random. If you were in Mid Bedfordshire and you knew that Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton wanted development—and, indeed, Tempsford, which is on the new east-west rail link and faces the possibility of taking on a large new settlement of 20,000 homes—you might well conclude that, in Mid Bedfordshire, taking account of the development in all the neighbouring areas, you do not need much development. That would be perfectly reasonable. Actually, the standard method and the way in which the guidance is constructed would allow that to happen because that is precisely what joint spatial development strategies should deliver in an area such as Bedfordshire.

As I say, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State wants those who feel that they have relaxed all these requirements to feel comfortable with that, yet he wants to maintain his target. When challenged, he says, “Well, there’s still an objectively assessed housing need and, if people do not meet it and do not show that they are going to meet that housing requirement, their plans will not be sound”. I have to say, this is not the way in which to conduct the planning system, whereby local planning authorities produce plans and inspectors throw them out. That way lies madness. What we need is for local planning authorities to have the kind of guidance that enables them to produce in the first instance sound plans that are the basis on which local people can rely. That is what we are aiming for: a plan-led system. However, what the Government are moving towards is not a locally plan-led system. In my view, we need to change this.

That is the first set of people who should vote for this amendment, in this case because it is the right the policy. There is a second group of people for whom there is another, different argument. It goes, “How is this supposed to work?” This Bill was in the other place last year. It completed its Third Reading on 13 December. As far as I can tell, there was effectively no substantive debate on the provisions in this Bill relating to the housing target and standard method. Nine days after the Bill completed its passage through the other place, the Government published their consultation draft of the National Planning Policy Framework. In it, they relaxed the housing delivery test; they made the housing targets and standard method an advisory starting point, in effect; and they allowed local planning authorities to have an alternative approach.

As my noble friend Lord Young demonstrated so clearly, all of that added up to local planning authorities thinking that they had been let off. However, none of that was in the Bill. It was not debated by the House. It was not voted on by the House of Commons in any fashion. Today, if we do not send Amendments 195 and 196 to the other place, no such debate will take place in the House of Commons. The issue will go through by default. I agree with my noble friend: the world has moved on and sentiment has changed. He used to be a Chief Whip; I used to run national election campaigns. I used to look carefully at the salience of issues. The salience of housing as an issue has risen and continues to rise. I must advise my Front Bench that the salience of housing as an issue is rising not because we are building too many houses but because we are building too few. The Government may argue, “Well, they’re just in the wrong place”. There are ways of dealing with that but we do need more, which is what the standard method is intended to help us achieve.

We are having this debate today because these amendments are here on Report. If we do not send them down to the other place, the debate will not take place in the Commons. I know that there are colleagues on our Benches in another place who want to have this debate. They think that the Bill needs to show what Parliament thinks about housing targets—the standard method—and how an objectively assessed housing need should be established, and by whom. We need to give them that opportunity. I encourage noble Lords, in looking at these amendments, to realise that this is about not just the policy but the question of whether the Commons should have a chance to look at this matter. I do not mean making them think again, which is our conventional constitutional job; in this case, I mean them looking at this issue for the first time. If we do not send these amendments back, they will not even look at it a first time. We need to give them that opportunity.

I hope that noble Lords will support Amendment 195 on that basis.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently on this subject already. Amendment 200, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman, recognises the need to reinstate the provision for housing targets through the NPPF and associated guidance, and through the housing delivery test, which, I agree with noble Lords who have spoken already, is incredibly important. Similarly, Amendment 195, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Lansley, Lord Young and Lord Best, and my noble friend Lady Hayman, and Amendment 196, in the names of noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Young, see the essential part that local plans have to play in the delivery of housing need. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said—rightly, in my view—one of the most important amendments to the Bill that we have discussed on Report.

The much-respected organisation Shelter reports that there are 1.4 million fewer households in social housing than there were in 1980. Combined with excessive house prices making homes unaffordable, demand has been shunted into the private rental sector, where supply has been too slow to meet needs. That means above-inflation increases in rents.

On the affordable homes programme, the National Audit Office reports that there is a 32,000 shortfall in the Government’s original targets for building affordable homes. It goes on to say that there is a high risk of failing to meet targets on supported homes and homes in rural areas. Progress will be further confounded by double-digit inflation, soaring costs of materials and supply disruption, yet the Government seem to have no clue how to mitigate those factors, and in those circumstances the decision to scrap housing targets last December seems even more bizarre.

The National Audit Office is not the only one with concerns about the delivery of the programme. In December last year, the Public Accounts Committee outlined that DLUHC

“does not seem to have a grasp on the considerable risks to achieving even this lower number of homes, including construction costs inflation running at 15-30% in and around London”,

although that is not far off what it is in the rest of the country.

We had extensive debates about the housing crisis during Committee on this Bill, but there was nothing in the Minister's responses to reassure us that the vague promises to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s would feed through into the planning process—points made very clearly by noble Lords who have already spoken. I do not need to point out to your Lordships’ House that we are just 18 months away from that deadline and the target has never been met. It is being missed by almost 100,000 homes a year, and more in some years. If they are not in the planning process, what chance is there of them being delivered? According to one estimate commissioned by the National Housing Federation and Crisis from Heriot-Watt University, the actual number needed is around 340,000 new homes in England each year, of which 145,000 should be affordable.

Let us consider the latest figures from the National House Building Council. The number of new homes registered in quarter 2 in 2023 was 42% down on 2022. The number of new homes registered in the private sector in quarter 2 in 2023 was 51% down on 2022. The number of new homes registered in the rental and affordable sector was down 14% in quarter 2 2023—declines across most regions compared to the same quarter last year, with the north-west experiencing the sharpest decline of 67%, followed by the east of England at 56% and the West Midlands at 54%. Only London and Wales bucked this trend.

The consequences of not delivering the right number of homes of the right tenures that people actually need are devastating. Those of us who are councillors or have been councillors all know that our inboxes, surgeries and voicemails are full of families with horrible experiences of overcrowding, temporary and emergency housing, private rented homes that are too expensive for family budgets and insecure resulting in constant moves, more young people having to live with their parents for longer, impaired labour mobility, which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned and which makes it harder for businesses to recruit staff, and increased levels of homelessness. All this is stacking up devastating future consequences for the families concerned, and no doubt a dramatic impact on public funding as the health, education, social and employment results of this work down the generations.

There is increased focus on addressing affordability as distinct from supply—subjects that we discussed in the earlier group. In the foreword to a 2017 Institute for Public Policy Research report, Sir Michael Lyons said:

“We would stress that it is not just the number built but also the balance of tenures and affordability which need to be thought through for an effective housing strategy”.

With local authorities charged with the responsibility for ensuring that their local plans drive economic development in their areas, we simply cannot afford to overlook the place that housing development plays in local economies.

Policy Exchange has set this out very clearly in its paper. The housing crisis does not simply have localised effects on regional markets; it is holding back growth everywhere. Addressing the housing shortage offers immense economic opportunities to the country. As in previous historical periods, like the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1960s, expanding housing supply could provide a platform for sustained growth that balances the economy and spreads prosperity widely. It could help to reduce government expenditure on benefits and make our urban areas more productive.

Equally importantly, it could restore faith in the aspiration of home ownership. The fact is that we need a renewed national effort to fix the housing market and fulfil the dream of an affordable, secure and sustainable home for every family and the promise of owning one’s own home to the next generation. That national effort might well have to wait for the election of a Labour Government, but what is certain is that we cannot let that effort be confounded by a few Tory Back-Benchers in the other place, nervous about their majorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said that if the Government have a target, they must have a mechanism for delivering it. I completely agree with that. Without a clear plan for each area to meet its assessed housing need, there is little likelihood that it will happen at all.

As far as I understand these amendments, they are an intention to return the planning system to the time before 2022 happened—the golden age when the system worked. I must say that I was looking for some fairy dust. I will explain by going back to 2010, when an incoming coalition Government discovered that only 15%—I think it was 15%—of local authorities had an up-to-date local plan. That is when the Department for Communities and Local Government, in which I was then a junior Minister, came up with a way to encourage local planning authorities to speed-up their local plan process.

That was after a 30-year statutory requirement—it is 30 years old—that they should have such a local plan. This was essentially to let developers loose in areas where there was no up-to-date local plan. I have scars from an Adjournment debate in that place, which is a bit like a QSD at this end. As a junior Minister, I drew the always available short straw, and I was faced—or rather I was backed, because they were behind me— by 20, 30, 40, although it seemed like a thousand, angry MPs complaining that the Government were blackmailing their district council by setting developers loose. It was like Dunkirk, only there were no boats.

The coalition Government kept their nerve, and so that system endured until 22 December, I think—the dispatch date given by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. However, whether the coalition Government held their nerve, or whether, like the Conservative Government, they did not hold their nerve, the outcome was still not 300,000 homes a year. The missing ingredient for us was fairy dust. That system does not deliver 300,000 homes a year. I wish the noble Lords good luck with their amendments, and I shall be interested to see what the Government have to say, but even if passed, it will not deliver 300,000 homes a year. That seems to me to be the fundamental point. I absolutely take the analysis delivered so powerfully by the proponents of this. Unfortunately, the lever that they intend us to use for it is already deficient, and we have seen it. So, please, where is the fairy dust?

My Lords, I refer to my registered interests, particularly that I chair a company that advises people on sustainable planning. I must say to my noble friends, with whom I very often agree, that I find this debate extremely difficult. First, this Bill should never have been in this form at all. No previous Government would have provided a long title for a Bill that means that it takes this long to go through Parliament and that, every time they think of something, they can add it to the Bill. We must be very clear about this Bill. Historically, we used to have the tightness of a title which enabled you to keep responsibly and respectably within the subject. So I start with this difficulty.

Secondly, this concentration on the numbers misses the point. Since the Government got rid of the net-zero requirement for houses, we have built over a million and a half homes that are not fit for the future. Every one of them has meant that the housebuilders have taken the profit, while the cost of putting those homes right has been left with the purchaser of the home. That is a scandal which is shared between the Government, who were foolish enough to get rid of the net-zero requirement, and the housebuilders, who knew precisely what they were doing. One of them made so much money that it offered its chief executive £140 million as a bonus. He did not get all that in the end, but that was the situation.

My problem is that in the absence of a proper policy, we are talking about the wrong thing. We should not be talking about the numbers, except to say that we need significantly more homes. We should be talking about the quality of the homes and the places where they should be. I go back to my own experience as Housing Minister. We were very interested in ensuring that we built homes on already used land. We thought it important to recreate our cities. We thought that was just as important a part of this as the numbers. At the moment, I can drive back from my local railway station and see every little village, every little town, spreading out into the countryside, homes being built on good agricultural land and homes being built which are, by their nature, the creators of commuters, as there is nowhere else for people to work.

If I may say so to my noble friend, it is no good ignoring that many district councils have a real problem with the number of places in which they can build the homes that they were asked to build. A lot are NIMBYs, and some I quite agree you would not like, but if you are faced with building homes in a council where most of the area is green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty or historic areas, you find yourself in a huge difficulty. I agree that many of them do not try as hard as they ought to, but let us not kid ourselves as to what the local issue is—not just wanting to win that particular ward but a matter of real difficulty.

For that reason, I say to my noble friend that I am sad that in this elongated, extended, overblown Bill, we have not had time to do four things: put in the future homes requirements to raise the standards of housebuilding so that they are fit for the future; create a system whereby housebuilders should provide the resources for rebuilding the insides of many of the homes that they built over the last five or 10 years; and understand that we should reuse land and think about place-making where people are within a quarter of an hour of the resources they need. Then, we can talk about how we can have a relationship with local authorities that can build the number of houses that we need.

I intend to support the Government on this amendment because I am not prepared to be put into a position where the answer to our problems is numbers. That is not the answer. The answer is a housing policy which looks at sustainability, the ability to buy and the future, not a collection of odd clauses stuck together and added when it happens to be convenient.

My Lords, I have a much less eloquent and much less exciting question to the proponents of Amendment 195, and certainly no fairy dust. If you are linking national targets to the local plan, what happens when national targets change during the five-year plan period? Does the plan have to be rewritten, do parts of it have to be rewritten, or do you have to wait until the end of the period and then apply the new target? It is a purely technical question and, as I say, much less exciting than some of the material we have just heard, but I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, could help me with that.

I know that we are on Report but in response to that, it is exactly the structure that we have seen before. Essentially, in the five-year period between one local plan and the review of that plan, clearly, the housing delivery test is applied to what is adopted in that plan in the first instance. When it is reviewed after five years then clearly, as the amendment would say, the local plan must then be reviewed, taking account of the Government’s targets and standard method as applicable at that time.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, was absolutely right when he introduced his amendment in saying that this is the most important part of the Bill and is at the heart of the housing debate we have been having. I am very fortunate to be following the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who has given this whole debate a new dimension and a new focus for our thoughts, on whether we should be fixated on numbers or considering other elements of housing provision.

There is complete agreement across the House and support for building the homes that people need and the country needs. It means building homes in all parts of our country. I agree with the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Young, about how we will provide the homes that folk need, and the analysis of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, on how vital it is that homes be provided for social rent so that families can have a stable background, and with a housing cost that they can meet within their tight family budgets. Like her, I am a councillor, and I am saddened by the number of families where I live who are pushed into renting in the private housing sector on short-term lets and every six months are having to post on Facebook, “Is there a home to rent in this locality at this price with this number of bedrooms, so that I don’t have to move schools for my children?” That is not the sort of country we want to create, in my opinion; we ought to be providing stable homes for people whose incomes restrict their housing options to homes for social rent.

The answer that the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Lansley, and even the noble Lord, Lord Best, give is to provide a big target for housebuilding, which the country needs, and to hope that it will somehow be fulfilled. Unfortunately, history tells us that this is not what happens. We know that the Government have dictated housing targets for many years and failed to achieve them for at least 50. If those targets had been fulfilled, we would not be in the desperate state we are now. Targets do not build homes. Targets do not build the homes that people need; they tend to give power to developers, who build homes that people want, which is why we are so short of affordable housing and housing for social rent. Top-down targets are not the answer. The problem with top-down targets is that communities and, indeed, councillors do not like being told exactly how many homes they have to build. Top-down targets enable arguments about census figures, household sizes and demographic trends, and these cast doubt on the need for new homes. The consequence of that argument is that land allocation for sites is hotly contested. Because the targets are top down, there is no general discussion with communities about the type of homes needed as well as their number. When communities have those discussions, as they do when developing neighbourhood plans, the result is that more homes are allocated in those areas than the targets suggest, because communities have the opportunity to think about it and rise to the challenge. The people in the community—local families—need those homes and communities respond to that by enabling those sites to be allocated for new build.

My other challenge for the advocates of top-down targets is that they can be implemented only where councils adopt a local plan. On Monday, in discussion on another group of amendments, we heard that only a third of local councils currently have an up-to-date plan. That means that two-thirds of councils do not have allocated sites for housing. It is not surprising, therefore, that the top-down targets do not provide the lever for councils to allocate sites. What is needed is for those councils to have those discussions and be encouraged—perhaps not as far as the Minister would like—to step into the difficult territory of a combined county authority dictating to district councils what should be built. That is difficult territory, which I suggest others would not wish to tread in. If, as I think we all agree, we want new homes built, we must be willing somehow to provide the means by which that happens, rather than simply saying, “These are the targets: get on with it”.

Housing targets and numbers do not reflect different types of tenure, types of home and household sizes. Some parts of the country desperately need housing with extra care for older people so that they can retain independence and downsize without having to go into residential care. Where is that in any top-down target? It does not exist, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Best, in an earlier debate about social housing numbers. That is as important as a single top-down target dictated by the Government.

I shall state at every opportunity that the Bill is about levelling-up and regeneration. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said on the previous group about how important it is to link economic investment and housing development. That is how we achieve levelling up in some of our more deprived communities, but that is not what is here. What is also missing is any incentive for local communities to accept new building. As a local councillor, whenever a big housing site is allocated, people say to me, “Where is the allocation for school places, new doctors’ surgeries and new transport, and what about our parks?” I know the Minister will say to me, “You can put them into the conditions of a planning application”. Of course you can but, more often than not, they are not fulfilled within that community—they are off site, somewhere else. That is at the heart of this problem about housebuilding. Incentives must be in place to encourage communities to accept new homes.

Then there is the issue that we have forgotten about: currently, more than 1 million homes with planning consent are not being built. In my small ward, planning consent for nearly 800 homes has been there for two or three years. The homes are not being built because it does not suit the developers to do so. Unless we also overcome the issue that there is too much power in the hands of developers, we miss the whole point about top-down targets. I repeat: top-down targets do not build homes. We need to talk to communities, discussing how inward investment and housebuilding will help them thrive and help their high streets come to life. That is why, if the noble Lord, Lord Young, is moved to press his amendment to a vote, we will be unable to support him. We will abstain. We agree that more houses are needed, which is where I started. There is complete agreement on that, but we disagree on how you achieve it.

My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions made on this important issue. I reiterate at the outset that delivering more homes remains a priority for this Government, as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State made clear in the long-term plan for housing, which they set out at the end of July.

Local plans play a crucial role in enabling new homes to come forward, which is why the National Planning Policy Framework is clear that all plans should seek to meet the development needs of their area. Nothing we consulted on at the end of last year changes that fundamental expectation. There will, however, be limits on what some plans can achieve, which is where I must take issue with Amendment 195, in the names of my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Young, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock.

Amendment 195 would place local plans under a legal obligation to meet or exceed the number of homes generated by the standard method prescribed by the Government. Amendment 200, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is designed to have a similar effect. While this is well intentioned, it would be unworkable in practice. Ever since the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in 2012, it has been clear that plans should meet as much of their identified housing need as possible, but there are legitimate reasons why meeting or exceeding that need may not always be appropriate. For example, an authority with very extensive areas of green belt or which is largely an area of outstanding natural beauty or a national park may not be able to meet its identified housing need in full if we are also to maintain these important national protections. In these cases, there will be a need to consider whether any unmet need can be met elsewhere, which is something that our policies also make clear.

It is for this reason that our standard method for calculating housing need—or, indeed, any alternative method which may be appropriate in certain cases—can be only a starting point for plan-making, not the end. Mandating in law that the standard method figures must be met or exceeded in all cases would do significant harm to some of our most important protected areas and could conflict with other safeguards, such as the need to avoid building in areas of high flood risk.

It is also right that local communities should be able to respond to local circumstances. The changes to national policy which were consulted upon at the end of last year are designed to support local authorities to set local housing requirements that respond to demographic and affordability pressures while being realistic, given local constraints. However, let me make it clear: the Secretary of State’s Written Ministerial Statement, published on 6 December 2022, confirmed that the standard method for assessing local housing need will be retained. To get enough homes built in the places where people and communities need them, a crucial first step is to plan for the right number of homes. That is why we remain committed to our ambition of delivering 300,000 homes per year and to retaining a clear starting point for calculating local housing needs, but we know that the best way to get more homes is by having up-to-date local plans in place.

Amendment 196, in the name of my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Young, takes a different approach, obliging local planning authorities to have regard to any standard method and any national housing targets when preparing their local plans. I will put this more bluntly still: there is no question that we are about to let local authorities off the hook in providing the homes that their communities need. They need to have a plan, it should be up to date, it needs to do all that is reasonable in meeting the needs of the local area and, in response to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, it needs to look at different types of housing. They need to know how much housing is required for older people, younger people, families and disabled people. That is what their plan should have. We have discussed this with local authorities and will be working with them to ensure that that will happen.

A need to have regard to the standard method is already built into the Bill, as Schedule 7 requires local planning authorities when preparing their local plan to have regard to

“national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.

That includes the National Planning Policy Framework, its housing policies, including those relating to the use of the standard method, and associated guidance. Adding a specific requirement to have regard to the standard method would have no additional effect as planning authorities will already take it into account and draft plans will be examined against it.

A legal obligation to take any national housing target into account, which this amendment would also create, poses a different challenge as it is unclear how plans at the level of an individual local authority could do so. This could create unintended consequences by creating an avenue for challenges to emerging plans on the basis that they have not done enough to reflect a national target and so could slow down the very plans that we need to see in place.

I hope that, taking these considerations into account, my noble friend Lord Lansley is persuaded not to move his amendment.

My Lords, this has been a long and good debate, and I will not detain the House with a long summing up. I will deal first with the core defence that the Minister has just laid out, namely, that the way to get more houses is to have more up-to-date local plans. That argument was considered seriously by the Select Committee in the other place, which said this about what the Minister has just told us:

“We are sceptical of the Minister for Housing and Planning’s confidence that greater local plan coverage will result in more housebuilding. If there is no longer a requirement for up-to-date local plans to continually demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, and if housing targets in local plans are to be made advisory, then it does not necessarily follow that more local plan coverage will result in the same increases in housebuilding as under the current NPPF”.

In one paragraph, I am afraid that it demolishes the main defence that the way forward is through more local plans.

I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Best, pointed out that the Government’s target is very modest by international standards and explained how the imperatives of local politics will always require local councillors to go for a lower target rather than a higher one, so it would not be fair on local councillors to leave this in their hands.

My noble friend Lord Lansley made an important constitutional point that the major changes were made to the proposed NDMP after the Bill had completed its stages in the other place. It has not had an opportunity to consider these major changes in housing policy and will not unless this amendment is carried. He also made the point that housing has risen up the agenda since the rebellion last December, and there has been some evidence of a movement of opinion within the governing party down the other end.

I am grateful for the support from the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, who pointed out the statistics were going in the wrong direction. I was disappointed by the response from the Liberal Democrat spokesman. Only one thing is clear: if we do not carry this amendment, we will get fewer targets. The Government say they want more houses but, again, I quote from the Select Committee report:

“it is difficult to see how the Government will achieve its 300,000 net national housing target by the mid-2020s if local targets are only advisory”.

I was Housing Minister to my noble friend Lord Deben. If I had gone to him and said, “It doesn't matter how many houses we build”, I am not sure that I would have stayed in my post for very long. Numbers matter. Any responsible Government must look ahead: how many schools, hospitals and homes do we need? It is not an irrelevant consideration. That is why my party had a clear manifesto commitment to build 300,000 houses a year.

Yes, we should do more about brownfield sites, but if every brownfield site in England identified on all the local authority brownfield registers was built on to full capacity, this would provide for only just under one-third of the 4.5 million homes needed over the next 15 years.

I am grateful to the Minister, who has been very patient. She has not been able to move in the direction that I had hoped, so I want to restore the position to what it was when the Bill was introduced, before the Government amended housing policy in December. I want to enable the commitment of 300,000 houses that we gave at the last election to be met, and I want to give the elected House an opportunity to consider the major changes in government policy announced since the Bill was introduced. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 196 not moved.

Amendments 196A to 196E

Moved by

196A: Schedule 7, page 350, line 20, at end insert—

“(5A) The minerals and waste plan must take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to all or part of the relevant area, including in particular—(a) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(i) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(ii) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(b) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(c) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires a minerals and waste plan to take account of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to any part of the relevant area.

196B: Schedule 7, page 352, line 33, at end insert “, and

(b) take account of any local nature recovery strategy which relates to all or part of the area to which the plan relates or to an area in which a site to which the plan relates is located, including in particular—(i) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(A) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(B) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(ii) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(iii) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires a supplementary plan to take account, so far as appropriate, of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to the area to which the plan relates or an area in which a site to which the plan relates is situated.

196C: Schedule 7, page 364, line 22, after “authority” insert “, combined county authority”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister’s name amending new section 15HD of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as inserted by Schedule 7 to the Bill).

196D: Schedule 7, page 364, line 24, after “authority” insert “, combined county authority”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment amends new section 15HD of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as inserted by Schedule 7 to the Bill) so that it also covers combined county authorities, which are provided for under Part 2 of the Bill.

196E: Schedule 7, page 380, line 16, at end insert—

““local nature recovery strategy” means a local nature recovery strategy under section 104 of the Environment Act 2021;”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment defines “local nature recovery strategy” for the purposes of the amendments in the Minister’s name to Schedule 7 at page 335, line 33; page 347, line 38; page 350, line 20; and page 352, line 33.

Amendments 196A to 196E agreed.

Clause 92: Contents of a neighbourhood development plan

Amendment 196F

Moved by

196F: Clause 92, page 98, line 35, at end insert “, and

(b) take account of any local nature recovery strategy, under section 104 of the Environment Act 2021, that relates to all or part of the neighbourhood area, including in particular—(i) the areas identified in the strategy as areas which—(A) are, or could become, of particular importance for biodiversity, or(B) are areas where the recovery or enhancement of biodiversity could make a particular contribution to other environmental benefits,(ii) the priorities set out in the strategy for recovering or enhancing biodiversity, and(iii) the proposals set out in the strategy as to potential measures relating to those priorities.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires neighbourhood development plans to take account, so far as appropriate, of any local nature recovery strategy that relates to all or part of the neighbourhood area to which the plan relates.

Amendment 196F agreed.

Clause 93: Neighbourhood development plans and orders: basic conditions

Amendment 197

Moved by

197: Clause 93, page 99, line 33, at end insert—

“(3) In paragraph 11(2) of Schedule A2 to PCPA 2004 (modification of neighbourhood development plans: basic conditions)—(a) for paragraph (c) substitute—“(ca) the making of the plan would not result in the development plan for the area of the authority proposing that less housing is provided by means of development taking place in that area than if the draft plan were not to be made,”; (b) after paragraph (d) (but before the “and” at the end of that paragraph) insert—“(da) any requirements imposed in relation to the plan by or under Part 6 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 (environmental outcomes reports) have been complied with,”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment updates the basic conditions which must be met for a modification of a neighbourhood development plan, so that they correspond to those that will apply for making a neighbourhood development plan once the amendments already included in Clause 93 are made.

Amendment 197 agreed.

Amendment 198

Moved by

198: After Clause 94, insert the following new Clause—

“Duty to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being(1) For the purposes of this section “the general health and well-being objective” is the reduction of health inequalities and the improvement of well-being through the exercise of planning functions in relation to England.(2) A local planning authority must ensure that the development plan for their area includes policies designed to secure that the development and use of land contribute to the general health and well-being objective.(3) In considering whether to grant planning permission or permission in principle and related approvals, a local planning authority or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State must ensure the decision is consistent with achieving the general health and well-being objective.(4) In complying with this section, a local planning authority or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State must have special regard to the desirability of—(a) ensuring that key destinations such as essential shops, schools, parks and open spaces, health facilities and public transport services are in safe and convenient proximity on foot to homes;(b) facilitating access to these key destinations and creating opportunities for everyone to be physically active by improving existing, and creating new, walking and cycling routes and networks;(c) increasing access to high-quality green infra-structure;(d) ensuring a supply of housing which is affordable to and meets the health, accessibility and well-being needs of people who live in the local planning authority's area.”Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would create a requirement for local planning authorities to include policies in their development plans which contribute to a new general health and well-being objective. It requires local planning authorities and the Secretary of State to ensure consistency with this objective when deciding whether to grant planning permission or permission in principle and related approvals, such as reserved matters.

My Lords, on Monday we debated this amendment, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, who is unavoidably detained. The amendment proposes a duty to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being through the exercise of planning functions. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his response, in which he put his faith in the National Planning Policy Framework, but I do not think that this goes far enough. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Amendments 199 and 200 not moved.

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I beg that further consideration on Report be now adjourned until after the further business of the House is completed.

Sitting suspended.

Private Sector Renters: Eviction Protection


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to protect renters in the private sector who are seeking help with energy-saving improvements from eviction.

My Lords, the Government are committed to ending Section 21 no-fault evictions. We introduced the Renters (Reform) Bill in the other place to do this. Without the fear of retaliatory eviction, once Section 21 is abolished, tenants will be more empowered to act within their legal rights, complain about unacceptable standards and seek improvements. Private rented properties should be warm and decent, and we have several schemes to support energy-saving improvements to provide this.

Does the Minister agree that the balance is wrong if, according to a report by Generation Rent, nearly 40% of fuel-poor households rent privately but only 14% of energy company obligation grants help them in any way? Will the Minister ensure that the Renters (Reform) Bill protects tenants from either eviction or prohibitive rent rises if they get these grants? That is surely urgent, and important above other tenures.

I agree. I looked at the figures showing where private renters were utilising the Government’s grants for energy efficiency in their homes, and I think we should be spending more time trying to improve take-up. The Renters (Reform) Bill is important because it will deliver a fairer, more secure and higher-quality private rented sector. It will deliver the Government’s commitments to a better deal for renters, as well as for landlords, by improving the system for responsible tenants and the good-faith landlords who are in the majority.

My Lords, many families are paying the price in higher energy bills because of the failure to improve the energy efficiency of homes. Cold homes could also have a serious impact on public health, given that 4% of UK homes have a serious damp problem and 17.5% of the UK’s population has been diagnosed with a form of asthma. Has the department carried out any assessment of the savings which could be made to the long-term NHS budget by increasing the energy efficiency of UK homes? The Minister may need to write to me on this.

I do not have that information with me but I will certainly look at it and write to the noble Baroness. However, the Government are investing £12 billion in Help to Heat schemes. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, it is sad that not enough private rental landlords are taking up those grants. We also have the ECO Plus scheme—the GB insulation scheme—for which both tenants and landlords can apply. In the energy security strategy, the Government have just announced zero-rated VAT for the next five years on the installation of insulation and low-carbon heating. It is important that landlords know what is available and that tenants ask them for it.

My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend said on the Renters (Reform) Bill, but what action is being taken to address the delays in the courts that are asked to process cases relating to tenancies?

My noble friend is absolutely right about the court system: it is too slow. On difficult cases that escalate to the courts—not all of them do—we are working with the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS to target areas that frustrate proceedings, including through digitising more of the court process to make it simpler and easier for landlords to use.

My Lords, the system is just not working. It relies on the tenant applying for a fuel poverty grant and, as is clear from the statistics that my noble friend just gave, that simply is not working. These perverse incentives are working against each other and not helping the poorest in society. Are there any plans to review this, because it is so obviously not working? What did the Minister make of the Secretary of State’s remarks that he wants to relax the pace of energy-efficiency standards in the private rented sector, given that it has the fewest decent homes?

We are still committed to raising efficiency from band E to C by 2028 and will keep the fuel poverty grant under review. I think the important issue, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, is the grants that will make private rented properties more energy efficient in the first place.

Teacher Shortages


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of teacher shortages in schools in England, and what plans they have to address the issue.

My Lords, there are nearly 468,400 full-time equivalent teachers in state-funded schools in England, 27,000 more than in 2010 and the highest number since the school workforce census began. In July, the Government fully accepted the School Teachers’ Review Body’s pay recommendations, giving teachers and leaders the highest pay award in over 30 years—6.5%. This is a competitive salary and will help us to build on the record numbers of teachers in our schools.

My Lords, on Monday we discussed the literally crumbling school estate and, today, the shockingly high teacher shortages. It seems that the entire school system is creaking at the seams, with our children paying the price. Almost one in 10 of the total teacher workforce in England resigned last year: 40,000 teachers left the profession and 4,000 retired. There are shortages across the board including in maths, science, modern languages, English, business studies and DT. Does the Minister have a plan and timetable to address these shortages?

In mentioning the number of people leaving the profession, the noble Baroness omitted to mention the number entering the profession last year. There were 48,000 entrants, including 16,700 returning to the profession. I remind the House that the vacancy rate for teachers is 2.8%, which remains extremely low. However, I recognise that there are shortages in certain subjects and in certain parts of the country, which is why we are targeting our bursaries on them. I remind the noble Baroness that we should be proud in this country that the work of our teachers has resulted in us rising up the international rankings in primary reading, from 8th in 2016 to 4th in 2021—the highest in the western world.

My Lords, the number of teacher vacancies has doubled in two years. The number of students wanting to go into teaching has declined by 79%. We then have the issue of specialist subjects; for example, there are 400 schools where there is no qualified physics teacher. Increasingly, we see our children being taught by supply teachers, which is not the best way to teach young people. How have we managed to get into such a situation? Did we not see this coming, and should we not have put together a plan to avert this crisis?

First, I do not accept that it is a crisis. Secondly, if the noble Lord looks at the long-term numbers on this, in subjects such as mathematics, which is raised frequently in the House, in 2014-15 we had 75.8% specialist teachers. That is now 78.6%. There are subjects like physics where it has gone down slightly, but this has been a long-term issue, and I thank our teachers and leaders for the work they do to make our schools as good as they are.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register as a trustee of a large state secondary school in High Wycombe. What consideration is being given to extending the area covered by the London fringe allowance, given the increasing challenges of teacher recruitment in urban areas outside of London, particularly areas like High Wycombe?

I am very happy to take the noble Lord’s point back to the department. I am aware that teacher mobility is much greater in London than in some other parts of the country. I appreciate that that represents challenges for schools, but I will take his specific point back.

In 2018, the Minister’s own department published an analysis of why teachers were leaving the profession. Two of the reasons were being overworked and a feeling that they were unloved. This afternoon, she paid tribute to the profession for their achievements, which I welcome, but does she really think that the intemperate remarks of the Secretary of State yesterday give confidence to teachers, headteachers and schools that Ministers really value what they do?

I am aware that the Secretary of State has apologised for her remarks. Working closely with her and my right honourable friend the Minister for School Standards, I can absolutely assure the House that we barely have a conversation where we do not express our gratitude to teachers and school leaders. We take workload very seriously and are continuing to work with the unions on that following the pay agreement.

My Lords, on the subject of intemperate behaviour, does my noble friend share my disgust that the Labour Party put out a message that the Prime Minister did not care about the safety of our children in schools? On issues such as the ones she has dealt with so well, we do not need people making party political points.

I think the serious point here is that there is a serious situation in the handful of schools where we have had to intervene on the concrete. Of course, it could not be more inaccurate and unhelpful to criticise the Prime Minister personally in this regard.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a particular problem with music teachers in schools, and that the shortage, coupled with the decline in people taking GSCE music, is really very worrying?

I know that the noble Lord has worked very hard in this area. We still have 81.1% of music lessons being delivered by quality—qualified; I am sure they are all quality—music teachers. That is down, as the noble Lord says, from 87.7% in 2014-15. I am delighted that the noble Lord is meeting with the Minister for School Standards to progress ideas on how we can encourage more children to be able to study music in school.

My Lords, in the last academic year, 94,900 children were listed as missing from education. The recruitment and retention of teachers is hugely important, but so is that of child welfare officers. Will the Minister recommit to the recruitment and retention of those? The issue of children missing from education has been much more prevalent since Covid, and they are vital in tackling that long-term problem.

My noble friend makes an important point. We are extremely concerned about the specific issue of children missing from education and, more broadly, about the impact that Covid has had on school attendance. Yesterday, the Secretary of State and the Minister for School Standards met the Attendance Action Alliance, trying to address exactly these issues and learning from best practice around the country.

My Lords, given the shortage that we heard about earlier of specialist teachers in subjects such as physics, what is the department able to do to broker partnerships with independent schools where teachers are available perhaps to enable pupils to study these subjects remotely so that they can gain the qualifications they want and enter the professions where these roles are so badly needed?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. We are extremely supportive of partnerships between independent schools and state-funded schools. That cuts across a wide range of areas, of which specialist teaching is just one. What I hear from independent schools when I talk to them about this issue is that it is very much a two-way street. It is not just about independent schools sharing their resources with their neighbouring schools. It is very much in both directions, and both groups benefit.

My Lords, following on from the question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, if, as is clearly the case, bursaries are an effective driver of teacher recruitment, will the Government reintroduce them for arts subjects, including art and design and music, where recruitment is now falling well short of their targets—less than 60% in both these subject areas?

We always keep these issues under review, but our assessment at the moment is that the greatest pressures are in some regional areas—hence our levelling-up premiums—and in certain specific subjects, which I know the noble Earl is familiar with, which those are.

Asylum Applications Backlog


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the growing backlog of asylum applications and to ensure new cases are processed in an efficient manner.

We committed to increase our headcount to 2,500 decision-makers. As of 1 September, we have met that commitment. We have taken immediate action to speed up asylum processing while maintaining the integrity of the system. The streamlined asylum process plays an important role in achieving that. We are on track to clear the legacy asylum backlog by the end of 2023. It is presently down by more than 30,000 cases.

I thank the Minister, but the asylum backlog had risen to a high of more than 175,000 waiting for an initial decision as of the end of June, up 44% from last year. There was a service standard that set a target of 98% of straightforward cases receiving an initial decision within six months. That was withdrawn in 2019. Can the Minister confirm that this Government are still committed to the efficient processing of asylum claims? If so, when will a new service standard be put in place?

I can reassure the noble Earl that we are very much committed to the efficient dispatch of the consideration of asylum claims. There were 78,768 asylum applications in the year ending June 2023, which is higher than at any time since the European migration crisis. The asylum backlog is high because there are so many applications. We entirely appreciate the point the noble Earl makes—that we need efficient dispatch of these applications—and that is why we have made the reforms and the headway with the backlog that we have.

While the application numbers should, of course, reduce—it is very important for this to be an initiative by the Government —do we not also have to look at the removals of those who fail to meet the criteria under the 1951 convention? Is my noble friend satisfied that we have discussed enough with the countries of origin—I emphasise “origin”—of these applicants that they will take back those who fail to meet those criteria, particularly countries of origin that claim to be free, democratic respecters of human rights?

My noble friend is entirely right that one of the keys to the asylum process is to remove those whose asylum applications are refused, but in some cases some countries are difficult about taking back their citizens. The Government take very seriously their obligations to seek to negotiate an improvement in those situations. An example of that being very successfully achieved was in relation to the Albanian cohort. As the House will hear later during the Statement repeat, we have successfully removed many Albanians to Albania under that agreement.

My Lords, when are the Government going to apologise for having created this backlog by closing all the safe and secure routes, except for a few nationalities? When will the Government apologise for making asylum seekers and refugees, who have experienced the most horrendous conditions, into some sort of right-wing trope and hate figures?

I do not recognise any of the items raised by the noble Baroness. I can reassure her that there will be no such apologies.

My Lords, from my time as Minister for Immigration, I have some experience of the challenges of asylum casework. Indeed, when I was the Minister we had a backlog and the problem of many countries not taking back their own citizens, but they were nothing like this scale. The backlog has increased by 44% over the last year. I recently heard a Home Office explanation for this. Apparently, it is

“due to more cases entering the asylum system than receiving initial decisions”.

Where I come from, in the west of Scotland, explanations of that nature are responded to with the words, “You don’t say?”. This is a description, not an explanation, of failures. My experience in government was that, when there were failures, the best way to deal with them was to change methodologies. Can the Minister honestly tell us whether, in his review of how this came about, the Home Office has identified any failures on its part that have caused this backlog?

I am afraid the Government do not accept any lessons in handling the asylum backlog from the Labour Party, which resolved the issues in relation to its own asylum backlog by granting an asylum amnesty. That is not something we propose to do. The Government have addressed the problem by taking concrete steps, including the streamlined asylum processing model. This concentrates facilities on applicants from high-grant countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Syria, Yemen and, latterly, Sudan. That is on the basis of the high grant rate. Various other steps have been taken to make the system more efficient. That is why we have had a drop in the number of applicants.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that up to a third of the funds intended for overseas development assistance are being spent on the accommodation of asylum seekers, who are unable to work? Does he agree that reducing the backlog of asylum seekers would free up money to spend on overseas development, which is such an important part of Britain’s overseas reputation?

I rather agree with the noble Lord. The Government’s policy is to reduce expenditure on hotels, which will free up more government money to be spent on overseas aid. I can reassure the noble Lord, the House having passed the Illegal Migration Act, that one of its consequences is that those in the cohort covered by Section 2 will not be able to make asylum claims. As a result, they will not be in the asylum backlog.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that since the Prime Minister pledged to clear the pre-June 2022 asylum backlog the Government are now withdrawing many more claims, meaning that they no longer count? Can he say how many such claims have been withdrawn and whether a Home Office official was right when reported in the press as saying:

“This is done to basically bring the backlog down”—

in other words, changing the way the Government count numbers to give them the result they want?

No is the short answer. The Home Office is committed to ensuring that the asylum system is not open to abuse. By promptly withdrawing asylum claims from non-compliant individuals, we are ensuring that decision-making resources are concentrated on those who genuinely wish to continue with their asylum claims within the UK. Asylum seekers can withdraw their claim, should they no longer wish to claim asylum in the UK, and may do so for a variety of reasons, including that they want to leave the UK or have permission to stay on another basis. Asylum claims may also be withdrawn where the individual fails to comply with the asylum process or absconds before a decision is made on their claim.

Following the question from the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, will the Minister confirm that, as reported in today’s press, it will no longer be possible to charge to the aid programme the costs of asylum seekers whose claims are deemed inadmissible under the Illegal Migration Act?

I have not seen the article to which the noble Lord refers. I will of course look at it and reply to him in due course.

Returning to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, how long does the Home Office consider a reasonable length of time for an asylum seeker to provide reasons and evidence as to why their asylum request should be reinstated after receiving a decision and the application is withdrawn? Will the Government publish statistics on the number of applicants reinstated?

The GOV.UK website contains detailed guidance on circumstances in which a claim will be withdrawn or deemed withdrawn, including a timescale. I do not believe, although I do not have the facts before me, that there is a concrete deadline after which a claim may not be restored, but I will check that and revert to the right reverend Prelate in relation to it.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. One of the consequences of the Government’s rush to beat the backlog is that those who have the right to remain are given as little as seven days, or sometimes even less, to leave their asylum seeker accommodation—seven days to find a home and a job and, most crucially, to put in a successful application for universal credit. Do the Government believe that making people homeless and passing the buck to local authorities and the voluntary sector, while that may solve the Government’s problem, places cash-strapped councils in an impossible position?

Clearly, as the noble Lord knows, it is a priority for the Government to reduce and eliminate the use of hotels. If people have successfully claimed asylum, the position is that they should no longer reside in Home Office accommodation and that they become the responsibility of the local authority. This is a well-known procedure and has been in place for a long time. I do not believe that there is any reason why that should not be the case.

Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete: Public Buildings


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the extent of the problem of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in public buildings other than schools.

My Lords, the Government have acted decisively to tackle the issue, taking a proportionate approach informed by experts. The Office of Government Property, which is part of the Cabinet Office, wrote to all government property leaders in 2019 and again in September 2022, highlighting safety notices on RAAC and signposting Institution of Structural Engineers guidance on identification and remediation. It is the responsibility of individual organisations such as departments, arm’s-length bodies or wider organisations such as NHS trusts, to manage their own buildings.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Answer, but there is something of a metaphor for the Government in this issue of RAAC—time expired and liable to collapse with little or no notice. Is the Chancellor going to agree to “spend whatever it takes” to fix the problems in housing, hospitals and other public buildings? The Minister just mentioned the Cabinet Office review, but what about the Ministry of Defence review into its buildings that I understood had to be completed by July? How many hospitals are going to be partially closed as a result of work on RAAC and will the Government list them in the way they have done for schools? Does the Minister agree with the head of the National Audit Office that getting value for money depends on doing the “unflashy but essential” things such as maintenance, in addition to what you might call a sticking-plaster approach that ends up costing more money? In short, can the Minister understand why some people think that this is an autoclaved aerated crumbling Government in need of replacement?

That was a huge array of questions more suitable for debate, but perhaps I can make clear that the Government have agreed to fund extensive RAAC mitigation works across the NHS and the education estate by capital funding allocations. We will consider the approach to any RAAC funding in other public sector estates on a case-by-case basis. As regards the MoD, the programme of surveys is ongoing, given the size of the estate, and I know that my right honourable friend the new Defence Secretary takes this matter very seriously.

My Lords, the Comptroller and Auditor-General wrote yesterday in the Times that the problems were caused by “underinvestment” in the physical estate and

“by the lack of a robust long-term programme of building maintenance and replacement”,

and suggested that that needs now to be urgently addressed. Can the Minister assure us that the Government are now willing to develop such a long-term programme and raise the level of investment in the public estate, or are they going to give in to the continuing demands from right-wing newspapers and their own Back Benches to cut taxes first and not put the money in?

The Government are investing and will continue to invest in public sector buildings. Take education: the Government have allocated £15 billion since 2015 to keep schools safe and operational. In this area, professional advice has evolved over time. Successive Governments since 1994 have managed the risk of RAAC and will continue to do so. I have explained the central advice given to help individual public sector bodies manage their responsibilities in the way that all building and property owners need to do.

My Lords, it is my understanding that four out of five schools have asbestos in them, as do many public buildings, including this one. If the concrete part of a building is now degrading and exposing the asbestos, at which point its disturbance makes it extremely dangerous, what are the Government’s plans to budget and implement a way to deal with the asbestos and the concrete at the same time?

As the noble Lords knows, there is of course a legal framework for managing asbestos through the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 and I refer to the expert advice and involvement of independent building experts that have played a very important part in identifying RAAC in places such as hospitals and managing that in a responsible way.

My Lords, the test of a good Government is not whether a crisis pops up on their watch that they have to deal with but how Ministers respond. There are two options—you can roll up your sleeves and get on with it or you can dither, delay, cut funding and blame others while expecting to be thanked. As the scale of the schools problem emerges, and given that the Government cut Building Schools for the Future funding, the Minister said just now that the Cabinet Office wrote to all government departments in 2019. Can she tell the House whether the Government now have a grasp of the extent of the problem to which courts, hospitals and other buildings used by the public are affected by this? If they have, given that the letter went out in 2019, when will that information be published?

Actually, we have rolled up our sleeves in this case, to quote the noble Baroness. We wrote in 2019, and again in 2022 after Covid. A great deal of management on a risk-based basis has been undertaken across the public sector, drawing on professional expert advice, because it is very important that that is done. More recently, in June 2023, the Cabinet Office set up an expert working group under the OGP to look at RAAC. Of course, that has been meeting very frequently since the information, which has been the subject of other Question sessions, became available in schools in August.

My Lords, we are learning about a range of RAAC in all building types across the nation’s estate, from theatres to hospitals—sometimes in small amounts, sometimes in big amounts—so it is a complex picture that will need remedying or, crucially, mitigation. Does my noble friend agree that the approach that government takes includes advice, as she described briefly, from technical experts such as the Institution of Structural Engineers? If so, can she say more?

I cannot help but agree with my noble friend: it is absolutely right to follow expert advice in this sort of case. That is why the OGP wrote out on a number of occasions, and it is why my right honourable friend in the other place, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, had discussions with the Institution of Structural Engineers only this week. We are pursuing this, but we are ensuring that those who are responsible are putting in the effort and making the changes that are necessary—and we are giving central support, as I explained, in relation to education and health.

My Lords, many universities are likely to suffer from this problem, and some, of course, also have hospital trusts associated with them. The noble Baroness said it was up to NHS trusts and individual institutions to manage their estates, but she knows that that is not a sustainable position, because this problem is not evenly spread across the sector and will impact very heavily on individual organisations. What more will the Government do and announce in the near future to assist those affected? I declare an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University.

I am grateful to hear from the noble Baroness about the situation in the university sector. Of course, they will be taking their responsibilities seriously. As I know from having been involved in these sorts of organisations, the governors always spend a lot of time being concerned about, and taking professional advice on, the safety and state of buildings. Universities and hospitals, where RAAC mitigation work has been going on since 2019, are a bit different from schools, because the estates are usually concentrated in a smaller number of buildings and there are usually dedicated teams of trained estate professionals who are able to monitor and maintain the buildings.

My Lords, when the noble Baroness says that public bodies should accept their responsibilities, is she not aware—of course she is—that capital expenditure limits in the public sector are set by central government? Very often, the specifications for building materials are specified through government machinery and advice. After the survey of the NHS in relation to RAAC, why is the target to get rid of it 2035? Why will it take another 12 years?

One of the reasons for that is that some of the hospitals in which we have identified RAAC need a full replacement. They will be part of the rebuilt hospitals programme, which is due to mature by 2030. DHSC has published a media fact sheet on RAAC in the NHS, which I think the noble Lord might find very helpful in the health context.

Online Safety Bill

Third Reading

Relevant document: 40th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee. Scottish and Welsh Legislative Consent granted.

My Lords, I will make a brief statement on the devolution status of the Bill. I am pleased to inform your Lordships’ House that both the Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru have voted to grant consent for all the relevant provisions. For Scotland, these provisions are the power to amend the list of exempt educational institutions, the power to amend the list of child sexual exploitation and abuse offences and the new offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm. For Wales, the provisions are the power to amend the list of exempt educational institutions, the false communications offence, the threatening communications offence, the flashing images offences and the offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm.

As noble Lords will be aware, because the Northern Ireland Assembly is adjourned the usual process for seeking legislative consent in relation to Northern Ireland has not been possible. In the absence of legislative consent from the Northern Ireland Assembly, officials from the relevant UK and Northern Ireland departments have worked together to ensure that the Bill considers and reflects the relevant aspects of devolved legislation so that we may extend the following provisions to Northern Ireland: the power to amend the list of exempt educational institutions, the false communications offence, the threatening communications offence and the offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm. His Majesty’s Government have received confirmation in writing from the relevant Permanent Secretaries in Northern Ireland that they are content that nothing has been identified which would cause any practical difficulty in terms of the existing policy and legislative landscape. Historically, this area of legislation in Northern Ireland has mirrored that in Great Britain, and we believe that legislating without the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly is justified in these exceptional circumstances and mitigates the risk of leaving Northern Ireland without the benefit of the Bill’s important reforms and legislative parity.

We remain committed to ensuring sustained engagement on the Bill with all three devolved Administrations as it progresses through Parliament. I beg to move that the Bill be read a third time.

Clause 44: Secretary of State’s powers of direction

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 44, page 45, line 30, leave out from “must” to end of line 31 and insert “, as soon as reasonably practicable, be published and laid before Parliament.”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides that, in addition to publishing a direction under this Clause, the Secretary of State must also lay it before Parliament. Additionally the Secretary of State is required to do these things as soon as reasonably practicable. There is an exemption in certain circumstances (as to which see the next amendment to this Clause in my name).

My Lords, His Majesty’s Government have listened carefully to the views expressed in Committee and on Report and have tabled amendments to the Bill to address concerns raised by noble Lords. Let me first again express my gratitude to my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston for her constructive engagement on the Secretary of State’s powers of direction. As I said during our previous debate on this topic, I am happy to support her Amendments139 and 140 from Report. The Government are therefore bringing forward two amendments to that effect today.

Noble Lords will recall that, whenever directing Ofcom about a code, the Secretary of State must publish that direction. Amendment 1 means that, alongside this, in most cases a direction will now need to be laid before Parliament. There may be some cases where it is appropriate for the Secretary of State to withhold information from a laid direction: for example, if she thinks that publishing it would be against the interests of national security. In these cases, Amendment 2 will instead require the Secretary of State to lay a statement before Parliament setting out that a direction has been given, the kind of code to which the direction relates and the reasons for not publishing it. Taken together, these amendments will ensure that your Lordships and Members of another place are always made aware as soon as a direction has been made and, wherever possible, understand the contents of that direction. I hope noble Lords will agree that, after the series of debates we have had, we have reached a sensible and proportionate position on these clauses and one which satisfies your Lordships’ House.

I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for her determined and collaborative work on the issue of threatening communications. Following the commitment I made to her on Report, I have tabled an amendment to make it explicit that the threatening communications offence captures threats where the recipient fears that someone other than the person sending the message will carry out the threat. I want to make it clear that the threatening communications offence, like other existing offences related to threats, already captures threats that could be carried out by third parties. This amendment does not change the scope of the offence, but the Government understand the desire of the noble Baroness and others to make this explicit in the Bill, and I am grateful to her for her collaboration.

Regarding Ofcom’s power of remote access, I am grateful to noble Lords, Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Allan of Hallam, my noble friend Lord Moylan and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, who unavoidably cannot be with us today, for raising their concerns about the perceived breadth of the power and the desire for further safeguards to ensure that it is used appropriately by the regulator.

I am also grateful to technology companies for the constructive engagement they have had with officials over the summer. As I set out on Report, the intention of our policy is to ensure clarity about Ofcom’s ability to observe empirical tests, which are a standard method for understanding algorithms and consequently for assessing companies’ compliance with the duties in the Bill. They involve taking a test data set, running it through an algorithmic system and observing the output.

Under the Clause 101 information-gathering power before it was amended, Ofcom would clearly have been able to require providers to carry out such tests and then submit the requested information to it. However, it was not explicit that Ofcom could observe tests itself, which in many cases would be significantly more efficient. I am pleased to announce that, to ensure that the drafting meets the Government’s policy intention, and in recognition of these concerns, the Government have tabled amendments to change Ofcom’s power of “remote access” to a power to “view information remotely”. This clarifies that Ofcom cannot use the power to require companies to give access to its systems, addressing concerns which noble Lords raised that the power was too broad and could be used in a way that might create security risks.

Furthermore, we have tabled amendments which would limit the scope of this power so that, rather than being able to use it to view remotely any information necessary to carry out its online safety functions, Ofcom may view remotely only specific types of information in relation to the operation of systems, processes or features, including algorithms, or to observe tests or demonstrations remotely. We have also listened to the calls for additional safeguards and have tabled amendments which would ensure that the power to view information remotely could be exercised only by persons authorised by Ofcom. Moreover, Ofcom will be required to issue a seven-day notice before exercising this power.

These further protections and limitations are in addition to the existing safeguards in the Bill, which include Ofcom’s legal duty to exercise this power in a way that is proportionate, ensuring that undue burdens are not placed on businesses. The proportionality safeguard would extend to issues of security and privacy, as well as the duration of any tests. In observing algorithmic assessments, Ofcom would generally expect to require a service to use a test data set. There may be circumstances where Ofcom asks a service to execute a test using data it holds—for example, in testing how content moderation systems respond to certain types of content on a service as part of an assessment of the systems and processes. In this scenario, Ofcom may need to use a provider’s own test data set containing content which has previously violated its own terms of service. However, Ofcom can process users’ personal data only in a way compatible with UK data protection law and must take into account a platform’s own obligations under relevant data protection legislation. I hope that these amendments address the concerns noble Lords raised during our previous debate, while ensuring that Ofcom has the information-gathering powers it needs to regulate effectively—in particular, to hold providers to account for their use of algorithms.

The Government have also tabled a number of minor and technical amendments to improve the drafting of the Bill. These include an amendment to Clause 52(3), which is about Ofcom’s duties to produce guidance. This amendment updates a cross-reference in this clause. We are also making technical amendments to include the relevant information powers and offences in Clause 121, which is about the admissibility of statements in criminal proceedings, and we are making an amendment to Clause 162 which defines age assurance as

“age verification or age estimation”.

I beg to move.

I am very surprised that the Minister’s speech did not accede to the recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, published last week, in the report we made after we were forced to meet during the Recess because of the Government’s failure with this Bill. From his private office, we want answers to what is set out in paragraphs 6 and 7:

“We urge the Minister to take the opportunity during the remaining stages of the Bill”—

which is today—

“to explain to the House”—

I will not read out the rest because it is quite clear. There are two issues—Henry VIII powers and skeleton legislation—and we require the Minister to accede to this report from a committee of the House.

I think that every member of the committee was present at the meeting on 29 August, the day after the bank holiday. We were forced to do that because the Government published amendments to Clauses 216 and 217 on 5 July, but they did not provide a delegated powers memorandum until 17 July, the date they were debated in this House. That prevented a committee of the House being able to report to the House on the issue of delegated powers. We are not interested in policy; all we are looking at is the delegated powers. We agreed that one of us would be here—as it is not a policy issue—to seek that the Minister responds to the recommendations of this committee of the House. I am very surprised that he has not done that.

My Lords, I am very concerned to hear the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I certainly look forward to hearing what the Minister says in reply. I confess that I was not aware of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Powers Committee’s report to which he referred, and I wish to make myself familiar with it. I hope that he gets a suitable response from the Minister when he comes to wind up.

I am very grateful to the Minister for the amendments he tabled to Clause 44—Amendments 1 and 2. As he said, they ensure that there is transparency in the way that the Secretary of State exercises her power to issue a direction to Ofcom over its codes of practice. I remind the House—I will not detain your Lordships for very long—that the Communications and Digital Select Committee, which I have the privilege to chair, was concerned with the original Clause 39 for three main reasons: first, as it stood, the Bill handed the Secretary of State unprecedented powers to direct the regulator on pretty much anything; secondly, those directions could be made without Parliament knowing; and, thirdly, the process of direction could involve a form of ping-pong between government and regulator that could go on indefinitely.

However, over the course of the Bill’s passage, and as a result of our debates, I am pleased to say that, taken as a package, the various amendments tabled by the Government—not just today but at earlier stages, including on Report—mean that our concerns have been met. The areas where the Secretary of State can issue a direction now follow the precedent set by the Communications Act 2003, and the test for issuing them is much higher. As of today, via these amendments, the directions must be published and laid before Parliament. That is critical and is what we asked for on Report. Also, via these amendments, if the Secretary of State has good reason not to publish—namely, if it could present a risk to national security—she will still be required to inform Parliament that the direction has been made and of the reasons for not publishing. Once the code is finalised and laid before Parliament for approval, Ofcom must publish what has changed as a result of the directions. I would have liked to have seen a further amendment limiting the number of exchanges, so that there is no danger of infinite ping-pong between government and regulator, but I am satisfied that, taken together, these amendments make the likelihood of that much lower, and the transparency we have achieved means that Parliament can intervene.

Finally, at the moment, the platforms and social media companies have a huge amount of unaccountable power. As I have said many times, for me, the Bill is about ensuring greater accountability to the public, but that cannot be achieved by simply shifting power from the platforms to a regulator. Proper accountability to the public means ensuring a proper balance of power between the corporations, the regulator, government and Parliament. The changes we have made to the Bill ensure the balance is now much better between government and the regulator. Where I still think we have work to do is on parliamentary oversight of the regulator, in which so much power is being invested. Parliamentary oversight is not a matter for legislation, but it is something we will need to return to. In the meantime, I once again thank the Minister and his officials for their engagement and for the amendments that have been made.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his engagement and for the amendments he has tabled at various stages throughout the passage of the Bill.

Amendment 15 provides a definition:

““age assurance” means age verification or age estimation”.

When the Minister winds up, could he provide details of the framework or timetable for its implementation? While we all respect that implementation must be delivered quickly, age verification provisions will be worthless unless there is swift enforcement action against those who transgress the Bill’s provisions. Will the Minister comment on enforcement and an implementation framework with direct reference to Amendment 15?

My Lords, as this is a new stage of the Bill, I need to refer again to my entry in the register of interests. I have no current financial interest in any of the regulated companies for which I used to work, in one of which I held a senior role for a decade.

I welcome Amendment 7 and those following from it which change the remote access provision. The change from “remote access” to “view remotely” is quite significant. I appreciate the Minister’s willingness to consider it and particularly the Bill team’s creativity in coming up with this new phrasing. It is much simpler and clearer than the phrasing we had before. We all understand what “view remotely” means. “Access” could have been argued over endlessly. I congratulate the Minister and the team for simplifying the Bill. It again demonstrates the value of some of the scrutiny we carried out on Report.

It is certainly rational to enable some form of viewing in some circumstances, not least where the operations of the regulated entities are outside the United Kingdom and where Ofcom has a legitimate interest in observing tests that are being carried out. The remote access, or the remote viewing facility as it now is, will mean it can do this without necessarily sending teams overseas. This is more efficient, as the Minister said. As this entire regime is going to be paid for by the regulated entities, they have an interest in finding cheaper and more efficient methods of carrying out the supervision than teams going from London to potentially lots of overseas destinations. Agreement between the provider and Ofcom that this form of remote viewing is the most efficient will be welcomed by everybody. It is certainly better than the other option of taking data off-site. I am glad to see that, through the provisions we have in place, we will minimise the instances where Ofcom feels it needs data from providers to be taken off-site to some other facility, which is where a lot of the privacy risks come from.

Can the Minister give some additional assurances at some stage either in his closing remarks or through any follow-up correspondence? First, the notion of proportionality is implicit, but it would help for it to be made explicit. Whenever Ofcom is using the information notices, it should always use the least intrusive method. Yes, it may need to view some tests remotely, but only where the information could not have been provided in written form, for example, or sent as a document. We should not immediately escalate to remote viewing if we have not tried less intrusive methods. I hope that notion of proportionality and least intrusion is implicit within it.

Secondly, concerns remain around live user data. I heard the Minister say that the intention is to use test data sets. That needs to be really clear. It is natural for people to be concerned that their live user data might be exposed to anyone, be it a regulator or otherwise. Of course, we expect Ofcom staff to behave with propriety, but there have sadly been instances where individuals have taken data that they have observed, whether they were working for the police, the NHS or any other entity, and abused it. The safest safeguard is for there to be no access to live user data. I hope the Minister will go as far as he can in saying that that is not the intention.

Thirdly, Ofcom should carry out some kind of privacy impact assessment before requiring access. Again, that is standard practice in data protection terms and is a helpful discipline. If somebody at Ofcom is thinking, “Look, I’d really like to view one of these tests remotely”, there should be some kind of internal process where someone says, “I’m just going to look at the privacy impact of that and, if there are concerns, I’m going to work through them”. Doing this before the test is better than finding out after the test that there was an issue; I speak from experience, having worked at a company that did all sorts of things that turned out to be serious mistakes from a privacy point of view. I do not want Ofcom to fall into the same trap.

Fourthly, I would like reassurance that these things will be time-limited. Again, this is not explicit in the Bill, but I hope the Minister will be able to say that the intention is that, when Ofcom asks to view things remotely, those are not going to be open-ended asks but will be a case of saying, “I want to view X remotely for this period of time”—a week, a month, whatever is required—and that there will not be continual viewing, which is where it potentially becomes problematic.

Finally, I want to make a suggestion in this area: that the Government encourage Ofcom, which will be the independent regulator once we have finished with this Bill, to maintain a public register of all the information notices that it issues—without sensitive information, obviously. The fact that Ofcom has sought access to, requested information from and been viewing data at a particular platform is a matter of public interest. It would provide huge reassurance to people in the United Kingdom using these services if they knew that any information requests will be made public and that there will be no secrecy involved in the process. That is my final request, particularly around remote viewing requests. Otherwise, people will create conspiracy theories around what remote viewing entails; the best way to prevent this is simply to have a register saying, “Look, if Ofcom asked company X for this kind of remote viewing, that will never be secret. There will always be an easy way for a citizen to found out that that happened”.

Having said that, we certainly welcome these changes. They are an improvement as a result of our debate and scrutiny on Report.

My Lords, I, too, join noble Lords in thanking the Minister for the way in which he has addressed my concerns about aspects of the Bill and has wanted to enhance particularly the protection of women and girls from the kind of threats that they experience online. I really feel that the Minister has been exemplary in the way in which he has interacted with everyone in this House who has wanted to improve the Bill and has come to him with good will. He has listened and his team have been absolutely outstanding in the work that they have done. I express my gratitude to him.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the great improvements that the Government have made to the Secretary of State’s powers in the Bill during its passage through this House. I rise to speak briefly today to praise the Government’s new Amendments 1 and 2 to Clause 44. As a journalist, I was worried by the lack of transparency around these powers in the clause; I am glad that the lessons of Section 94 of the Telecommunications Act 1984, which had to be rescinded, have been learned. In a world of conspiracy theories that can be damaging to public trust and governmental and regulatory process, it has never been more important that Parliament and the public are informed about the actions of government when giving directions to Ofcom about the draft codes of practice. So I am glad that these new amendments resolve those concerns.

My Lords, I welcome Amendments 5 and 6, as well as the amendments that reflect the work done and comments made in earlier stages of this debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. Of course, we are not quite there yet with this Bill, but we are well on the way as this is the Bill’s last formal stage in this Chamber before it goes back to the House of Commons.

Amendments 5 and 6 relate to the categorisation of platforms. I do not want to steal my noble friend’s thunder, but I echo the comments made about the engagement both from my noble friend the Minister and from the Secretary of State. I am delighted that the indications I have received are that they will accept the amendment to Schedule 11, which this House voted on just before the Recess; that is a significant and extremely welcome change.

When commentators outside talk about the work of a revising Chamber, I hope that this Bill will be used as a model for cross-party, non-partisan engagement in how we make a Bill as good as it possibly can be—particularly when it is as ground-breaking and novel as this one is. My noble friend the Minister said in a letter to all of us that this Bill had been strengthened in this Chamber, and I think that is absolutely right.

I also want to echo thanks to the Bill team, some of whom I was working with four years ago when we were talking about this Bill. They have stuck with the Bill through thick and thin. Also, I thank noble Lords across the House for their support for the amendments but also all of those outside this House who have committed such time, effort, support and expertise to making sure this Bill is as good as possible. I wish it well with its final stages. I think we all look forward to both Royal Assent and also the next big challenge, which is implementation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction today and also for his letter which set out the reasons and the very welcome amendments that he has tabled today. First, I must congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for her persistence in pushing amendments of this kind to Clause 45, which will considerably increase the transparency of the Secretary of State’s directions if they are to take place. They are extremely welcome as amendments to Clause 45.

Of course, there is always a “but”—by the way, I am delighted that the Minister took the advice of the House and clearly spent his summer reading through the Bill in great deal, or we would not have seen these amendments, I am sure—but I am just sorry that he did not take the opportunity also to address Clause 176 in terms of the threshold for powers to direct Ofcom in special circumstances, and of course the rather burdensome powers in relation to the Secretary of State’s guidance on Ofcom’s exercise of its functions under the Bill as a whole. No doubt we will see how that works out in practice and whether they are going to be used on a frequent basis.

My noble friend Lord Allan—and I must congratulate both him and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for their addressing this very important issue—has set out five assurances that he is seeking from the Minister. I very much hope that the Minister can give those today, if possible.

Congratulations are also due to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, for finding a real loophole in the offence, which has now been amended. We are all delighted to see that the point has been well taken.

Finally, on the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, clearly it is up to the Minister to respond to the points made by the committee. All of us would have preferred to see a comprehensive scheme in the primary legislation, but we are where we are. We wanted to see action on apps; they have some circumscribing within the terms of the Bill. The terms of the Bill—as we have discussed—particularly with the taking out of “legal but harmful”, do not give a huge amount of leeway, so this is not perhaps as skeleton a provision as one might otherwise have thought. Those are my reflections on what the committee has said.

My Lords, I do not know how everyone has spent their summer, but this feels a bit like we have been working on a mammoth jigsaw puzzle and we are now putting in the final pieces. At times, through the course of this Bill, it has felt like doing a puzzle in the metaverse, where we have been trying to control an unreliable avatar that is actually assembling the jigsaw—but that would be an unfair description of the Minister. He has done really well in reflecting on what we have said, influencing his ministerial colleagues in a masterclass of managing upwards, and coming up with reasonable resolutions to previously intractable issues.

We are trusting that some of the outcome of that work will be attended to in the Commons, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has said, particularly the issues that she raised on risk, that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, raised on children’s safety by design, and that my noble friend Lady Merron raised on animal cruelty. We are delighted at where we think these issues have got to.

For today, I am pleased that the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, on Secretary of State powers, which we supported, have been addressed. I also associate myself with her comments on parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the regulator. Equally, we are delighted that the Minister has answered the concerns of my noble friend Lady Kennedy and that he has secured the legislative consent orders which he informed us of at the outset today. We would be grateful if the Minister could write to us answering the points of my noble friend Lord Rooker, which were well made by him and by the Delegated Powers Committee.

I am especially pleased to see that the issues which we raised at Report on remote access have been addressed. I feel smug, as I had to press quite hard for the Minister to leave the door open to come back at this stage on this. I am delighted that he is now walking through the door. Like the noble Lord, Lord Allan, I have just a few things that I would like clarification on—the proportional use of the powers, Ofcom taking into account user privacy, especially regarding live user data, and that the duration of the powers be time- limited.

Finally, I thank parliamentarians on all sides for an exemplary team effort. With so much seemingly falling apart around us, it is encouraging that, when we have common purpose, we can achieve a lot, as we have with this Bill.

My Lords, let me first address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I am afraid that, like my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, I was not aware of the report of your Lordships’ committee. Unlike her, I should have been. I have checked with my private office and we have not received a letter from the committee, but I will ask them to contact the clerk to the committee immediately and will respond to this today. I am very sorry that this was not brought to my attention, particularly since the members of the committee met during the Recess to look at this issue. I have corresponded with my noble friend Lord McLoughlin, who chairs the committee, on each of its previous reports. Where we have disagreed, we have done so explicitly and set out our reasons. We have agreed with most of its previous recommendations. I am very sorry that I was not aware of this report and have not had the opportunity to provide answers for your Lordships’ House ahead of the debate.

The report was published on 31 August. It so happens that the committee has been forced to meet in an emergency session tomorrow morning because of government amendments that have been tabled to the levelling-up Bill, which will be debated next Wednesday, that require a report on the delegated powers, so we will have the opportunity to see what the Minister has said. I am very grateful for his approach.

The committee will have a reply from me before it meets tomorrow. Again, I apologise. It should not be up to the committee to let the Minister know; I ought to have known about it.

I am very grateful to noble Lords for their support of the amendments that we have tabled in this group, which reflect the collaborative nature of the work that we have done and the thought which has been put into this by my ministerial colleagues and me, and by the Bill team, over the summer. I will have a bit more to say on that when I move that the Bill do now pass in a moment, but I am very grateful to those noble Lords who have spoken at this stage for highlighting the model of collaborative working that the Bill has shown.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked for an update on timetables. Some of the implementation timetables which Ofcom has assessed depend a little on issues which may still change when the Bill moves to another place. If she will permit it, once they have been resolved I will write with the latest assessments from Ofcom, and, if appropriate, from us, on the implementation timelines. They are being recalculated in the light of amendments that have been made to the Bill and which may yet further change. However, everybody shares the desire to implement the Bill as swiftly as possible, and I am grateful that your Lordships’ work has helped us do our scrutiny with that in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Allan, asked some questions about the remote viewing power. On proportionality, Ofcom will have a legal duty to exercise its power to view information remotely in a way that is proportionate, ensuring, as I said, that undue burdens are not placed on businesses. In assessing proportionality in line with this requirement, Ofcom would need to consider the size and resource capacity of a service when choosing the most appropriate way of gathering information. To comply with this requirement, Ofcom would also need to consider whether there was a less onerous method of obtaining the necessary information.

On the points regarding that and intrusion, Ofcom expects to engage with providers as appropriate about how to obtain the information it needs to carry out its functions. Because of the requirement on Ofcom to exercise its information-gathering powers proportionately, it would need to consider less onerous methods. As I said, that might include an audit or a skilled persons report, but we anticipate that, for smaller services in particular, those options could be more burdensome than Ofcom remotely viewing information.

On live user data, Ofcom would generally expect to require a service to use a test dataset, as I said in opening this debate. Additionally, Ofcom can process users’ data only in a way that is compatible with UK data protection law, and the extent to which steps would require Ofcom to view personal data is also relevant to its proportionality assessment.

We agree with my noble friend Lady Stowell and the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that ongoing parliamentary scrutiny of the regime will be crucial in helping to reassure everybody that the Bill has done what we hope it will. The creation of the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology means there is another departmental Select Committee in another place which will provide an enhanced opportunity for cross-party scrutiny of the new regime and digital regulation more broadly. Your Lordships’ Communications and Digital Committee will of course continue to play a vital role in the scrutiny in this House. As I set out at Report, to support this, the Government will ensure that the relevant committees in both Houses have every chance to play a part in government consultations by informing them when they are open. While we do not want the implementation process to be delayed, we will, where possible, share draft statutory instruments directly with the relevant committees before the formal laying process. That will be on a case-by-case basis, considering what is appropriate and reasonably practical. Of course, it will be up to the committees to decide how they wish to engage, but it will not create an additional approval process, to avoid delaying implementation.

A number of noble Lords mentioned press coverage about encryption, which I am aware of. Let me be clear: there is no intention by the Government to weaken the encryption technology used by platforms, and we have built strong safeguards into the Bill to ensure that users’ privacy is protected.

While the safety duties apply regardless of design, the Bill is clear that Ofcom cannot require companies to use proactive technology on private communications in order to comply with these duties. Ofcom can require the use of a technology by a private communication service only by issuing a notice to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse content under Clause 122. A notice can be issued only where technically feasible and where technology has been accredited as meeting minimum standards of accuracy in detecting only child sexual abuse and exploitation content. Ofcom is also required to comply with existing data protection legislation when issuing a notice under Clause 122 and, as a public body, is bound by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights.

When deciding whether to issue a notice, Ofcom will work closely with the service to help identify reasonable, technically feasible solutions to address child sexual exploitation and abuse risk, including drawing on evidence from a skilled persons report. If appropriate technology which meets these requirements does not exist, Ofcom cannot require its use. That is why the powers include the ability for Ofcom to require companies to make best endeavours to develop or source a new solution. It is right that Ofcom should be able to require technology companies to use their considerable resources and expertise to develop the best possible protections for children in encrypted environments. That has been our long-standing policy position.

Our stance on tackling child sexual abuse online remains firm, and we have always been clear that the Bill takes a measured, evidence-based approach to do this. I hope that is useful clarification for those who still had questions on that point.

Will my noble friend draw attention to the part of Clause 122 that says that Ofcom cannot issue a requirement which is not technically feasible, as he has just said? That does not appear in the text of the clause, and it creates a potential conflict. Even if the requirement is not technically feasible—or, at least, if the platform claims that it is not—Ofcom’s power to require it is not mitigated by the clause. It still has the power, which it can exercise, and it can presumably take some form of enforcement action if it decides that the company is not being wholly open or honest. The technical feasibility is not built into the clause, but my noble friend has just added it, as with quite a lot of other stuff in the Bill.

It has to meet minimum standards of accuracy and must have privacy safeguards in place. The clause talks about those in a positive sense, which sets out the expectation. I am happy to make clear, as I have, what that means: if the appropriate technology does not exist that meets these requirements, then Ofcom will not be able to use Clause 122 to require its use. I hope that that satisfies my noble friend.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Amendments 2 and 3

Moved by

2: Clause 44, page 45, line 31, at end insert—

“(7A) If the Secretary of State considers that publishing and laying before Parliament a direction given under this section would be against the interests of national security, public safety or relations with the government of a country outside the United Kingdom—(a) subsection (7)(c) does not apply in relation to the direction, and(b) the Secretary of State must, as soon as reasonably practicable, publish and lay before Parliament a document stating—(i) that a direction has been given,(ii) the kind of code of practice to which it relates, and(iii) the reasons for not publishing it.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides that in the circumstances mentioned in the amendment the Secretary of State is not required to publish and lay before Parliament a direction given under this Clause but must instead publish and lay before Parliament a document stating that a direction has been given, the code of practice to which it relates and the reasons for not publishing it.

3: Clause 44, page 46, line 2, leave out “and (8)” and insert “to (8)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the preceding amendment to this Clause in my name.

Amendments 2 and 3 agreed.

Clause 52: OFCOM’s guidance about certain duties in Part 3

Amendment 4

Moved by

4: Clause 52, page 52, line 12, leave out “subsection (9) of those sections” and insert “section 23(10) or 34(9)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This is a technical amendment which substitutes the correct cross-references into this provision.

Amendment 4 agreed.

Clause 95: Meaning of threshold conditions etc

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: Clause 95, page 85, line 12, at end insert—

“(za) references to a service meeting the Category 1, Category 2A or Category 2B threshold conditions are to a service meeting those conditions in a way specified in regulations under paragraph 1 of Schedule 11 (see paragraph 1(4) of that Schedule);”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment improves the drafting to clarify that a service “meets the Category 1 threshold conditions” (for example) if the service meets them in a way set out in regulations under Schedule 11.

Amendment 5 agreed.

Clause 98: List of emerging Category 1 services

Amendment 6

Moved by

6: Clause 98, page 88, line 19, after “which” insert “does not meet the Category 1 threshold conditions and which”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment improves the drafting to clarify that services which are already Category 1 services, or which meet the conditions to be a Category 1 service, do not need to be assessed by OFCOM to see if they should be included in the list which is provided for by Clause 98.

Amendment 6 agreed.

Clause 101: Power to require information

Amendments 7 to 10

Moved by

7: Clause 101, page 91, line 23, leave out from “that” to end of line 26 and insert “a person authorised by OFCOM is able to view remotely—”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment changes the wording of one of OFCOM’s information powers. The power now refers to viewing information remotely, rather than remotely accessing a service; the power is exercisable by a person authorised by OFCOM; and the power may only be exercised in relation to information as mentioned in Clause 101(3)(a) and (b).

8: Clause 101, page 91, line 29, leave out “the” and insert “a”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and the next amendment in my name make minor drafting changes in connection with the first amendment of Clause 101 in my name.

9: Clause 101, page 91, line 30, after “generated” insert “by a service”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment and the preceding amendment in my name make minor drafting changes in connection with the first amendment of Clause 101 in my name.

10: Clause 101, page 93, line 5, at end insert—

“(7A) The reference in subsection (3) to a person authorised by OFCOM is to a person authorised by OFCOM in writing for the purposes of notices that impose requirements of a kind mentioned in that subsection, and such a person must produce evidence of their identity if requested to do so by a person in receipt of such a notice.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment explains what is meant by the reference in Clause 101(3) to a person authorised by OFCOM.

Amendments 7 to 10 agreed.

Clause 103: Information notices

Amendment 11

Moved by

11: Clause 103, page 94, line 27, at end insert—

“(4A) An information notice requiring a person to take steps of a kind mentioned in section 101(3) must give the person at least seven days’ notice before the steps are required to be taken.” Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment has the effect that if a person receives a notice from OFCOM requiring them to allow OFCOM to remotely view information, they must be given at least 7 days to comply with the notice.

Amendment 11 agreed.

Clause 121: Admissibility of statements

Amendments 12 to 14

Moved by

12: Clause 121, page 105, line 32, after “101” insert “, 102”

Member’s explanatory statement

Clause 121 is about the admissibility of statements in criminal proceedings. This amendment adds Clause 102 to the list of relevant information powers (information in connection with an investigation into the death of a child).

13: Clause 121, page 105, line 33, after “2(4)(e) or (f),” insert “3(2),”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 12 to the list of relevant information powers (notices in connection with an inspection by OFCOM).

14: Clause 121, page 106, line 7, after “18” insert “(1)(c)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment pinpoints paragraph 18(1)(c) of Schedule 12 as the offence relevant to this Clause (rather than paragraph 18 as a whole)(provision of false information in connection with an inspection by OFCOM etc).

Amendments 12 to 14 agreed.

Clause 162: OFCOM’s report about use of app stores by children

Amendment 15

Moved by

15: Clause 162, page 144, line 29, at end insert—

““age assurance” means age verification or age estimation;”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds a definition of “age assurance” into this Clause.

Amendment 15 agreed.

Clause 182: Threatening communications offence

Amendments 16 and 17

Moved by

16: Clause 182, page 159, line 29, after “out” insert “(whether or not by the person sending the message)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes it clear that the threatening communications offence in Clause 182 may be committed by a person who sends a threatening message regardless of who might carry out the threat.

17: Clause 182, page 159, line 31, after “out” insert “(whether or not by the person sending the message)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment makes it clear that the threatening communications offence in Clause 182 may be committed by a person who sends a threatening message regardless of who might carry out the threat.

Amendments 16 and 17 agreed.


Moved by

My Lords, in begging to move that the Bill do now pass, I add my words of thanks to all noble Lords who have been involved over many years and many iterations of the Bill, particularly during my time as the Minister and in the diligent scrutiny we have given it in recent months. The Bill will establish a vital legislative framework, making the internet safer for all, particularly for children. We are now closer than ever to achieving that important goal. In a matter of months from Royal Assent, companies will be required to put in place protections to tackle illegal content on their services or face huge fines. I am very grateful to noble Lords for the dedication, attention and time they have given to the Bill while it has been before your Lordships’ House.

The Bill will mark a significant change in children’s safety online. Last month, data from UK police forces showed that 6,350 offences relating to sexual communications with a child were recorded last year alone. These are horrifying statistics which underline the importance of the Bill in building a protective shield for our children online. We cannot let perpetrators of such abhorrent crimes stalk children online and hide behind their screens, nor let companies continue to turn a blind eye to the harm being done to children on their services. We are working closely with Ofcom to make sure that the protections for children established by the Bill are enforced as soon as possible, and we have been clear that companies should not wait for the legislation to come into force before taking action.

The aim of keeping children safe online is woven throughout the Bill, and the changes that we have made throughout its passage in your Lordships’ House have further bolstered it. In order to provide early and clear guidance to companies and Ofcom regarding the content from which children must be protected, rather than addressing these later via secondary legislation, the categories of primary priority and priority content which is harmful to children will now be set out in the Bill.

Following another amendment made during your Lordships’ scrutiny, providers of the largest services will also be required to publish summaries of their risk assessments for illegal content and content which is harmful to children. Further changes to the Bill have also made sure that technology executives must take more responsibility for the safety of those who use their websites. Senior managers will face criminal liability if they fail to comply with steps set by Ofcom following enforcement action to keep children safe on their platforms, with the offence punishable with up to two years in prison.

Noble Lords have rightly raised concerns about what the fast-changing technological landscape will mean for children. The Bill faces the future and is designed to keep pace with emerging technological changes such as AI-generated pornography.

Child sexual exploitation and abuse content generated by AI is illegal, regardless of whether it depicts a real child or not, and the Bill makes it clear that technology companies will be required to identify this content proactively and remove it. Whatever the future holds, the Bill will ensure that guard rails are in place to allow our children to explore it safely online.

I have also had the pleasure of collaborating with noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House who have championed the important cause of strengthening protections for women and girls online, who we know disproportionately bear the brunt of abhorrent behaviour on the internet. Following changes made earlier to the Bill, Ofcom will be required to produce and publish guidance which summarises in one clear place measures that should be taken to reduce the risk of harm to women and girls online. The amendment will also oblige Ofcom to consult when producing the guidance, ensuring that it reflects the voices of women and girls as well as the views of experts on this important issue.

The Bill strikes a careful balance: it tackles criminal activity online and protects our children while enshrining freedom of expression in its legislative framework. A series of changes to the Bill has ensured that adults are provided with greater control over their online experience. All adult users of the largest services will have access to tools which, if they choose to use them, will allow them to filter out content from non-verified users and to reduce the likelihood of encountering abusive content. These amendments, which have undergone careful consideration and consultation, will ensure that the Bill remains proportionate, clear and future-proof.

I am very grateful to noble Lords who have helped us make those improvements and many more. I am conscious that a great number of noble Lords who have taken part in our debates were part of the pre-legislative scrutiny some years ago. They know the Bill very well and they know the issues well, which has helped our debates be well informed and focused. It has helped the scrutiny of His Majesty’s Government, and I hope that we have risen to that.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have made representations on behalf of families who have suffered bereavements because of the many terrible experiences online of their children and other loved ones. There are too many for me to name now, and many more who have not campaigned publicly but who I know have been following the progress of the Bill carefully, and we remember them all today.

Again, there are too many noble Lords for me to single out all those who have been so vigilant on this issue. I thank my colleagues on the Front Bench, my noble friends Lord Camrose and Lord Harlech, and on the Front Bench opposite the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Merron. On the Liberal Democrat Benches, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Allan of Hallam—who has been partly on the Front Bench and partly behind—who have been working very hard on this.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, whom I consider a Front-Bencher for the Cross Benches on this issue. She was at the vanguard of many of these issues long before the Bill came to your Lordships’ House and will continue to be long after. We are all hugely impressed by her energy and personal commitment, following the debates not only in our own legislature but in other jurisdictions. I am grateful to her for the collaborative nature of her work with us.

I will not single out other noble Lords, but I am very grateful to them from all corners of the House. They have kicked the tyres of the Bill and asked important questions; they have given lots of time and energy to it and it is a better Bill for that.

I put on record my thanks to the huge team in my department and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, who, through years of work, expertise and determination, have brought the Bill to this point. I am grateful to the staff of your Lordships’ House and to colleagues from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, in particular Maria White and Neil Shah, and, at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Sarah Connolly, Orla MacRae, Caroline Bowman and Emma Hindley as well as their huge teams, including those who have worked on the Bill over the years but are not currently working on it. They have worked extremely hard and been generous with their time to noble Lords for the use of our work.

The Bill will make a vital difference to people’s safety online, especially children’s safety. It has been a privilege to play a part in it. I was working as a special adviser at the Home Office when this area of work was first mooted. I remember that, when this Bill was suggested in the 2017 manifesto, people suggested that regulating the internet was a crazy idea. The biggest criticism now is that we have not done it sooner. I am very grateful to noble Lords for doing their scrutiny diligently but speedily, and I hope to see the Bill on the statute book very soon. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his very kind words to everybody, particularly my Front Bench and me. I also wish him a speedy recovery from his recent illness, although I was less sympathetic when I discovered how much he has been “managing upwards”—in the words of my noble friend Lord Knight—and achieving for us in the last few days. He has obviously been recovering and I am grateful for that. The noble Lord has steered the Bill through your Lordships’ House with great skill and largely single-handedly. It has been a pleasure to work with him, even when he was turning down our proposals and suggestions for change, which he did in the nicest possible way but absolutely firmly.

As has been mentioned, the original Green Paper was a response to the consultation on internet safety that the noble Lord mentioned, which started in October 2017. We are fast approaching six years later. A commitment to legislate has appeared in all the party election manifestos since then, but there have been changes in approach. That is not surprising given the turnover in Secretaries of State and junior Ministers, not forgetting that there has also been a change of department in that period. However, nearly six years on, it is gratifying to see that the bones of the original approach, albeit modified by the White Paper, are still in this version of the Bill.

Government processes can be cumbersome, but on this Bill they have worked very well. The Green and White Papers, and the government response to many of the consultations, all helped to set out thinking, clarify the approach and give early notice to companies likely to be in scope of the Bill. It was a very smart move to select Ofcom as the regulator early on and to fund it to prepare and scale up. That will prove to be a very good investment in future years.

Adding the pre-legislative joint scrutiny committee, which the noble Lord mentioned and which had five Members from this House, was a very important step. Damian Collins MP, who perhaps does not get the credit that he should, was a very good choice as chairman. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, kept us fully briefed on the report as we went through the various stages—he probably has a copy in his hands as we speak and may well want to quote from it even more. That so many of those recommendations are now in the Bill shows, as the Minister says, what can happen if we pool our efforts and pull together for a common aim.

Given that there was broad political agreement and that the key principles of the Bill were right, at Second Reading in your Lordships’ House I called for us to work together across party lines to ensure that we got the best Bill that we could out of what was before us. I was touched that so many colleagues from across the House agreed with my approach and went out of their way to offer their support. It was really good to see colleagues working together across the House, ignoring party lines, in pursuit of a better Bill. We are all Cross-Benchers at heart, or Bishops—perhaps not.

We got off to a slightly rocky start in Committee, with virtually everything being dismissed with a very superior form of words—usually that we had not foreseen the unforeseen consequences of our amendment being accepted—but it is good to see a lot of those amendments trumping back into the Bill now. But the debates themselves were useful and built a consensus around several key areas. It was clear that this collaborative approach can be very effective. Indeed, this way of working has shown parliamentary scrutiny at its best. We had debates of high quality, generating real insights on the Floor of the House. To be fair, by the time we got to Report, the Government rose to the challenge and responded with nearly 200 amendments that are going forward to the Commons. If you think about it, this is all the more remarkable given the intense partisanship that has characterised our public life during this time.

While a few significant issues still need to be resolved, there have been big changes and developments in the last few days. Following discussions with my noble friend Lady Merron, Sir Jeremy Wright and the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, the Government have offered to bring forward amendments at the Commons consideration of Lords amendments stage next week. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, we need to see those and to be clear that they are going in the direction that we have been told they will. We want to make sure that the Government will deliver what they have offered in these outstanding points. If they do, we can look forward to the strong possibility of completing parliamentary processes on the Bill by the end of this September sitting.

I thank the Bill team for all the work they did throughout. It was particularly good that the Minister mentioned them by name, because they have given a huge amount to us. I do not think that any holidays or time off have been allowed over the last few years, as they have worked through the various changes we have proposed. Their willingness to share their thinking has been absolutely fantastic. Taking us into their confidence on the policy issues that were still not finalised within government was difficult for them, and of course runs counter to all the usual approaches. I have been on Bills when we have had no information at all about the thinking. It was better here when we were talking about these things, having meetings that looked at the options and thinking about the ways in which they might be taken forward. I am sure it gave us the chance to make better decisions about when to settle, and as a result I hope that the Bill team will agree that the Bill is now in much better shape than it was.

Of course, the Opposition are at a considerable disadvantage to the Government in the support we can command when trying to take on legislation and give good scrutiny, as we wish to do. Dan Stevens in our office has done a magnificent job for us, despite having several other policy briefs to deal with. We would have struggled to deal with this Bill without his calm and measured advice and administrative skills. I think we should put it on record that we have also had a lot of support from the Public Bill Office. It is very hard to get amendments that say what you want, in language that will be accepted and allows them to be debated. Its staff often say that they are not parliamentary draftsmen or lawyers, but they make a pretty good job of what they have to do.

I also pay tribute to the All-Party Group on Digital Regulation and Responsibility, chaired by Sir Jeremy Wright, which has tracked the progress of the Bill throughout its many stages, organised meetings and circulated briefings, which has been incredibly useful. I think all of us involved in the Bill have benefited from the expertise and knowledge of the Carnegie UK Trust, led on this occasion by one of its trustees, William Perrin, who, with Professor Lorna Woods, was key to the initial development of the duty of care approach, and who, together with Maeve Walsh and others from the Carnegie team, supplied high-quality briefings and advice as we went through the various stages.

Finally, I thank my noble friends Lady Gillian Merron and Lord Jim Knight, who have supported me throughout this period despite having significant responsibilities in other areas, have taken the strain when needed without complaint, and have indeed won improvements to the Bill that I perhaps would not even have thought of, let alone obtained. It has been a real team effort, a joy and a pleasure, and a most enjoyable experience.

My Lords, I am probably going to echo quite a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, had to say, and I also pay tribute to him. This is an absolutely crucial piece of cross-party-supported legislation that many said was impossible. I believe that it is a landmark, and we should all take huge encouragement from seeing it pass through this House.

We started with the Green Paper, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, back in 2017. Many of us have been living with this issue since then, and I hope that therefore the House will not mind if I make a few more extended remarks than usual on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. I will not disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, because I will quote from the original Joint Committee report. As we said in the introduction to our Joint Committee report back in 2021:

“The Online Safety Bill is a key step forward for democratic societies to bring accountability and responsibility to the internet”.

We said that the most important thing was to

“hold online services responsible for the risks created by their design and operation”.

Our children and many others will be safer online as a result.

Across the House, this has been a huge joint venture. We made some very good progress, with the Minister and the Secretary of State demonstrating considerable flexibility. I thank them sincerely for that. We have tightened the Bill up, particularly regarding harms and risks, while, I believe, ensuring that we protect freedom of expression. Many Members of this House, including former Members of the Joint Committee, can take some pride in what has been achieved during the passage of the Bill through the House. I will add my thanks to some of them individually shortly.

The Minister mentioned a relatively short list; he was actually rather modest in mentioning some of the concessions that have been given while the Bill has passed through the House. For instance, the tightening up of the age-assurance measures and the adding of a schedule of age-assurance principles are really important additions to the Bill.

Risk assessment of user empowerment tools is very important, and I believe that the provisions about app stores and future regulation are an important aspect of the Bill. The freedom of expression definition has been inserted into the Bill. We have had new offences, such as facilitating self-harm and intimate image abuse, added during the passage of the Bill. I am delighted to say that, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, we expect to hear further concessions in the Commons on both the functionality issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and the category 1 aspects raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan.

We very much welcome the amendments that have been tabled today, including the remote-viewing clarification. We wait to hear what the Government’s position will be—I am sure that discussions are ongoing since the House voted to include a provision to review whether animal cruelty offences online should be brought into scope, and I am delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, here—and whether they will preserve the amendment and perhaps also include wildlife-trafficking offences in order to ensure that we avoid ping-pong on that last issue.

We on these Benches have never been minded to spoil the ship for a halfpenny-worth of tar, but that is not to say that there are not areas where we would have liked to have seen a bit more progress. I do not think the Minister will be surprised to hear me say that there are one or two such areas, such as: risk assessment, where we believe that the terms of service should be subject to a mandatory risk assessment; the threshold of evidence required for illegality; the prosecution threshold as regards the encouragement of non-fatal self-harm; the intent requirement for cyber flashing; and verification status and visibility, and whether Ofcom can actually introduce requirements.

I heard what the Minister had to say about AI-generated pornography but, like the NSPCC, I am not convinced that we have adequately covered the features provided as part of a service in the metasphere with which users interact. Bots in the metaverse are demonstrating an extraordinary level of autonomy that could potentially be harmful and, it seems, may not be covered by the Bill. Time will tell, and we will see whether that is the case.

Then of course there is the lack of legislative teeth for the review of research access and no requirement for guidance afterwards. I very much hope that will happen, despite there being no obligation at the end of the day.

I have mentioned Clauses 176 and 177. We wait to see how those will pan out. Then of course there is the issue on which these Benches have spoken virtually alone: the question of news publisher definition and exemption.

I very much welcome the last piece of assurance that the Minister gave in terms of Ofcom’s powers under Clause 122. Even as late as last night we heard news reports and current affairs programmes discussing the issue, and I genuinely believe that what the Minister said will be reassuring. Certainly I took comfort from what he had to say, and I thank him for agreeing to say it at a pretty late stage in the proceedings.

I think we all recognise that in many ways the Bill is just the beginning. There will be much further work to be done. We need to come back on misinformation when the committee set up under Clause 153 has reported. I hope that in particular it will look at issues such as provenance solutions such as those provided by the Content Authenticity Initiative. Fundamental changes will be needed to our electoral law in order to combat misinformation in the course of our elections, because we have had several Select Committees say that, and I believe the misinformation advisory committee will come to the same conclusion.

It is also clear that Parliament itself needs to decide how best to scrutinise the Bill in both its operation and its effectiveness. As we in the Joint Committee sought to suggest, there could be a Joint Committee of both Houses to carry on that scrutiny work, but I very much hope that will not be the case. I hope the SIT Select Committee in the Commons will pick up the cudgel and that the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, the Communications and Digital Select Committee, will do likewise in the House of Lords.

There are going to be many codes. The Minister talked about this, and we very much welcome his statement about the intent to consult and lay the codes in good time. I hope the committees will engage in the scrutiny of those as we go through, because the codes will be absolutely crucial to how this Bill will be implemented. The timing of the implementation of the Bill’s provisions will be crucial. I hope that Ofcom and DSIT will be very clear in their guidance about the timings and how the different parts of the Bill will be brought into operation and the codes of conduct drafted.

I know it is invidious in these proceedings to single out individuals but, as everybody who has spent time here during the course of this Bill will know, this has been a Back-Bench inspired set of amendments. In many ways, it is not really the Front Benches that have made a lot of the running; the passion and expertise of so many Back-Benchers has driven so many of the amendments. I pay tribute to all of them without, sadly, being able to read out all their names. I think they should know that they have the gratitude of everybody who has had anything to do with this Bill.

I do, however, want to single out my friend the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, who has spent so much time on this Bill: the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. In particular, his dispute-resolution skills have been to the fore. He set the tone at the very beginning of our proceedings in this House, which is highly unusual; I do not think we will be expecting similar behaviour any time soon. His open offer at the very beginning was highly significant and has coloured our proceedings. Of course, we all need to single out the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. She is a total force of nature, and we all stand in awe of what she has managed to achieve with this Bill.

I thank my noble friend Lord Allan, who identified the marshmallow problem, for his considerable expertise and practical experience, which has been totally invaluable. I thank my noble friends Lords McNally and Lady Burt and, in absentia, my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who has now returned to her place; I am delighted to see that. I thank our extraordinarily hard-working Sarah Pughe, who is ably assisted by Mohamed-Ali Souidi in our Whips’ Office, and my former senior researcher, Zoë Asser, from Queen Mary University of London.

I also—finally, noble Lords will be pleased to hear—pay my own tribute to Carnegie UK, especially Will Perrin, Maeve Walsh and Professor Lorna Woods, for having the vision five years ago as to what was possible around the construction of a duty of care and for being by our side throughout the creation of this Bill. I also thank Reset, which has helped co-ordinate our activities, and the huge number of organisations that have briefed us on issues ranging from children’s safety to freedom of speech throughout our proceedings. I echo our thanks to Sir Jeremy Wright and the all-party group, and to Damian Collins, who has been a tower of strength in helping us. Quite often, the other end ceases to take much interest in what we do as soon as a Bill comes here, but we have gone through this Bill hand-in-hand and that has been of huge usefulness and importance.

We are entering unknown territory in many ways, but with a huge amount of good will to make this Bill work.

My Lords, I want to thank the Minister and other noble colleagues for such kind words. I really appreciate it.

I want to say very little. It has been an absolute privilege to work with people across both Houses on this. It is not every day that one keeps the faith in the system, but this has been a great pleasure. In these few moments that I am standing, I want to pay tribute to the bereaved parents, the children’s coalition, the NSPCC, my colleagues at 5Rights, Barnardo’s, and the other people out there who listen and care passionately that we get this right. I am not going to go through what we got right and wrong, but I think we got more right than we got wrong, and I invite the Minister to sit with me on Monday in the Gallery to make sure that those last little bits go right—because I will be there. I also remind the House that we have some work in the data Bill vis-à-vis the bereaved parents.

In all the thanks—and I really feel that I have had such tremendous support on my area of this Bill—I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. She was there before many people were and suffered cruelly in the legislative system. Our big job now is to support Ofcom, hold it to account and help it in its task, because that is Herculean. I really thank everyone who has supported me through this.

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships would not want the Bill to pass without hearing some squeak of protest and dissent from those of us who have spent so many days and weeks arguing for the interests of privacy and free speech, to which the Bill remains a very serious and major threat.

Before I come to those remarks, I associate myself with what other noble Lords have said about what a privilege it has been, for me personally and for many of us, to participate over so many days and weeks in what has been the House of Lords at its deliberative best. I almost wrote down that we have conducted ourselves like an academic seminar, but when you think about what most academic seminars are like—with endless PowerPoint slides and people shuttling around, and no spontaneity whatever—we exceeded that by far. The conversational tone that we had in the discussions, and the way in which people who did not agree were able to engage—indeed, friendships were made—meant that the whole thing was done with a great deal of respect, even for those of us who were in the small minority. At this point, I should perhaps say on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, who participated fully in all stages of the Bill, that she deeply regrets that she cannot be in her place today.

I am not going to single out anybody except for one person. I made the rather frivolous proposal in Committee that all our debates should begin with the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam; we learned so much from every contribution he made that he really should have kicked them all off. We would all have been a great deal more intelligent about what we were saying, and understood it better, had we heard what he had to say. I certainly have learned a great deal from him, and that was very good.

I will raise two issues only that remain outstanding and are not assuaged by the very odd remarks made by my noble friend as he moved the Third Reading. The first concerns encryption. The fact of the matter is that everybody knows that you cannot do what Ofcom is empowered by the Bill to do without breaching end-to-end encryption. It is as simple as that. My noble friend may say that that is not the Government’s intention and that it cannot be forced to do it if the technology is not there. None of that is in the Bill, by the way. He may say that at the Dispatch Box but it does not address the fact that end-to-end encryption will be breached if Ofcom finds a way of doing what the Bill empowers it to do, so why have we empowered it to do that? How do we envisage that Ofcom will reconcile those circumstances where platforms say that they have given their best endeavours to doing something and Ofcom simply does not believe that they have? Of course, it might end up in the courts, but the crucial point is that that decision, which affects so many people—and so many people nowadays regard it as a right to have privacy in their communications—might be made by Ofcom or by the courts but will not be made in this Parliament. We have given it away to an unaccountable process and democracy has been taken out of it. In my view, that is a great shame.

I come back to my second issue—I will not be very long. I constantly ask about Wikipedia. Is Wikipedia in scope of the Bill? If it is, is it going to have to do prior checking of what is posted? That would destroy its business model and make many minority language sites—I instanced Welsh—totally unviable. My noble friend said at the Dispatch Box that, in his opinion, Wikipedia was not going to be in scope of the Bill. But when I asked why we could not put that in the Bill, he said it was not for him to decide whether it was in scope and that the Government had set up this wonderful structure whereby Ofcom will tell us whether it is—almost without appeal, and again without any real democratic scrutiny. Oh yes, and we might have a Select Committee, which might write a very good, highly regarded report, which might be debated some time within the ensuing 12 months on the Floor of your Lordships’ House. However, we will have no say in that matter; we have given it away.

I said at an earlier stage of the Bill that, for privacy and censorship, this represents the closest thing to a move back to the Lord Chamberlain and Lady Chatterley’s Lover that you could imagine but applied to the internet. That is bad, but what is almost worse is this bizarre governance structure where decisions of crucial political sensitivity are being outsourced to an unaccountable regulator. I am very sad to say that I think that, at first contact with reality, a large part of this is going to collapse, and with it a lot of good will be lost.

My Lords, I rise very briefly to thank the Minister for getting us to where we are today—the content of a Bill that I have advocated for over a decade. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for her kind words. She is my heroine.

I am so happy today to discuss the final stages of this Bill. The Minister has shown true commitment, tenacity and resilience, even through the holiday period. He has listened to the voices of noble Lords from across the House and to parents, charities and schools, and he has acted in the best interests of the future of society’s well-being. To him I say thank you. I fully support what he has to say today about measures that he has put down to safeguard children to prevent the worst type of child sexual abuse and exploitation imaginable, which, according to the IWF, has doubled in the last two years.

I am pleased that the Government have not been blown off course by those who feel that privacy is more important than child protection. I hope that Clause 122 of the Bill in relation to the use of technology notices remains unchanged in the final stages of deliberation. It will be good to have that confirmation once again today from the Minister.

On behalf of the IWF, CEASE and Barnardo’s— I declare an interest as a vice-president—we are so grateful to the Minister for the diligence, hard work and dedication to duty that he has shown. I very much look forward to continuing working closely with him, and with noble Lords from all sides of the House, to ensure that the implementation of the amendments we have all worked so hard to secure happens.

I look ahead to the review into pornography, which is often the gateway to other harms. I also look forward to working to make the UK the safest place in the world—the world is looking at us—to go online for everyone in our society, especially our children. As I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime. What a legacy we will leave for them by creating this Bill. I thank the Minister for everything that he has done—my “Play School” baby.

My Lords, I shall ask my noble friend the Minister a question about encryption but, before I do, I will briefly make a couple of other points. First, I echo all the tributes paid around the House to those involved in this legislation. It is no secret that I would have preferred the Bill to be about only child safety, so I particularly congratulate the Government, and the various Members who focused their efforts in that area, on what has been achieved via the Bill.

That said, the Government should still consider other non-legislative measures, such as banning smartphones in schools and government guidance for parents on things such as the best age at which to allow their children to have their own smartphones. These may not be points for DCMS, but they are worth highlighting at this point, as the Bill leaves us, soon to become legislation.

As I said on Report, I remain concerned about the reintroduction of some protections for adults, in lieu of “legal but harmful”, without any corresponding amendments to reinforce to Ofcom that freedom of expression must be the top priority for adults. We now have to leave it to Ofcom and see what happens. I know that the current leadership is deeply conscious of its responsibilities.

On encryption, I was pleased to hear what my noble friend said when he responded to the debate at Third Reading. If he is saying that the technology not existing means that Clause 122 cannot be deployed, as it were, by Ofcom, does that mean that the oversight measures that currently exist would not be deployed? As my noble friend will recall, one of the areas that we were still concerned about in the context of encryption was that what was in the Bill did not mirror what exists for RIPA. I am not sure whether that means that, because Clause 122 has been parked, our oversight concerns have been parked too. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that.

In the meantime, in the absence of Clause 122, it is worth us all reinforcing again that we want the tech firms to co-operate fully with law enforcement, either because a user has alerted them to illegal activity or when law enforcement suspects criminal behaviour and seeks their help. In that latter context, it would be helpful to understand what the Minister has said and to know what oversight that might involve. I congratulate my noble friend on this marathon Bill, and I am sorry to have delayed its passing.

My Lords, I will make a short contribution so that I do not disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Moylan; I will make a few direct and crunchy comments. First, I thank colleagues who participated in the debate for giving me a hearing, especially when I raised concerns about their proposals. It has been a constructive process, where we have been, as the Minister said, kicking the tyres, which is healthy in a legislature. It is better to do it now than to find faults when something has already become law.

I am in the unusual position of having worked on problems comparable to those we are now placing on Ofcom’s desk. I have enormous empathy for it and the hard work we are giving it. I do not think we should underestimate just how difficult this job is.

I want to thank the Minister for the additional clarification of how Ofcom will give orders to services that provide private communications. Following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said, I think this is a challenging area. We want Ofcom to give orders where this is easy—for example, to an unencrypted service hosting child sexual abuse material. The technology can be deployed today and is uncontroversial, so it is important that we do not forget that.

I heard the Minister say that we do not want Ofcom to move so fast that it breaks encryption. It should be moving but it should be careful. Those are the fears that have been expressed outside: on the day that this becomes law, Ofcom will issue orders to services providing encrypted communications that they will not be able to accept and therefore they will leave the UK. I think I heard from the Minister today that this is not what we want Ofcom to do. At the same time, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell said, we are not expecting Ofcom to ease off; any online service should be doing everything technically possible and feasible to deal with abhorrent material.

I humbly offer three pieces of advice to Ofcom as we pass the baton to it. This is based on having made a lot of mistakes in the past. If I had been given this advice, I might have done a better job in my previous incarnation. First, you cannot overconsult; Ofcom should engage with all interested parties, including those who have talked to us throughout the process of the Bill. It should engage with them until it is sick of engaging with them and then it should engage some more. In particular, Ofcom should try to bring together diverse groups, so I hope it gets into a room the kind of organisations that would be cheering on the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, as well as those that would be cheering on the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron. If Ofcom can bring them into the room, it has a chance of making some progress with its regulations.

Secondly, be transparent. The more information that Ofcom provides about what it is doing, the less space it will leave for people to make up things about what it is doing. I said this in the previous debate about the access request but it applies across the piece. We are starting to see some of this in the press. We are here saying that it is great that we now have a government regulator—independent but part of the UK state—overseeing online services. As soon as that happens, we will start to see the counterreaction of people being incredibly suspicious that part of the UK state is now overseeing their activity online. The best way to combat that is for Ofcom to be as transparent as possible.

Thirdly, explain the trade-offs you are making. This legislation necessarily involves trade-offs. I heard it again in the Minister’s opening remarks: we have indulged in a certain amount of cakeism. We love freedom of expression but we want the platforms to get rid of all the bad stuff. The rubber is going to hit the road once Ofcom has the powers and, in many cases, it will have to decide between one person’s freedom of expression and another’s harm. My advice is not to pretend that you can make both sides happy; you are going to disappoint someone. Be honest and frank about the trade-offs you have made. The legislation has lots of unresolved trade-offs in it because we are giving lots of conflicting instructions. As politicians, we can ride that out, but when Ofcom gets this and has to make real decisions, my advice would be to explain the trade-offs and be comfortable with the fact that some people will be unhappy. That is the only way it will manage to maintain confidence in the system. With that, I am pleased that the Bill has got to this stage and I have a huge amount of confidence in Ofcom to take this and make a success of it.

I rise briefly to raise the question of access to data by academics and research organisations. Before I do so, I want to express profound thanks to noble Lords who have worked so collaboratively to create a terrific Bill that will completely transform and hold to account those involved in the internet, and make it a safer place. That was our mission and we should be very proud of that. I cannot single out noble Peers, with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, with whom I worked collaboratively both on age assurance and on harms. It was a partnership I valued enormously and hope to take forward. Others from all four corners of the House contributed to the parts of the Bill that I was particularly interested in. As I look around, I see so many friends who stuck their necks out and spoke so movingly, for which I am enormously grateful.

The question of data access is one of the loose ends that did not quite make it into the Bill. I appreciate the efforts of my noble friend the Minister, the Secretary of State and the Bill team in this matter and their efforts to try and wangle it in; I accept that it did not quite make it. I would like to hear reassurance from my noble friend that this is something that the Government are prepared to look at in future legislation. If he could provide any detail on how and in which legislation it could be revisited, I would be enormously grateful.

My Lords, I will be brief and restrict myself to responding to the questions which have been raised. I will hold to my rule of not trying to thank all noble Lords who have played their part in this scrutiny, because the list is indeed very long. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said about this being a Back-Bench-driven Bill, and there are many noble Lords from all corners of the House and the Back Benches who have played a significant part in it. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, not just for her kind words, but for her years of campaigning on this, and to my noble friend Lord Bethell who has worked with her—and others—closely on the issues which she holds dear.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Moylan who has often swum against the tide of debate, but very helpfully so, and on important matters. In answer to his question about Wikipedia, I do not have much to add to the words that I have said a few times now about the categorisation, but on his concerns about the parliamentary scrutiny for this I stress that it is the Secretary of State who will set the categorisation thresholds. She is, of course, a Member of Parliament, and accountable to it. Ofcom will designate services based on those thresholds, so the decision-making can be scrutinised in Parliament, even if not in the way he would have wished.

I agree that we should all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam, because he addressed some of the questions raised by my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston. In brief, the provision is flexible for where the technological solutions do not currently exist, because Ofcom can require services to develop or source new solutions.

This close to the gracious Speech, I will not point to a particular piece of legislation in which we might revisit the issue of researchers’ access, as raised by my noble friend Lord Bethell, but I am happy to say that we will certainly look at that again, and I know that he will take the opportunity to raise it.

Noble Lords on the Front Benches opposite alluded to the discussions which are continuing—as I committed on Report to ensure that noble Lords are able to be part of discussions as the Bill heads to another place—on functionalities and on the amendment of my noble friend Lady Morgan on category 1 services. She is one of a cavalcade of former Secretaries of State who have been so helpful in scrutinising the Bill. It is for another place to debate them, but I am grateful to noble Lords who have given their time this week to have the discussions which I committed to have and will continue to have as the Bill heads there, so that we can follow those issues hopefully to a happy resolution.

I thank my noble friend Lady Harding of Winscombe for the concessions that she wrought on Report, and for the part that she has played in discussions. She has also given a great deal of time outside the Chamber.

We should all be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, who has sat quietly throughout most of our debates—understandably, in his capacity as chairman of Ofcom—but he has followed them closely and taken those points to the regulator. Dame Melanie Dawes and all the team there stand ready to implement this work and we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grade of Yarmouth, and to all those at Ofcom who are ready to put it into action.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Report (6th Day) (Continued)

Amendment 201

Moved by

201: After Clause 95, insert the following new Clause—

“Definition of affordable housing(1) Within 90 days of the day on which this Act is passed, a Minister of the Crown must publish the report of a consultation on the definition of affordable housing.(2) Within 30 days of the publication of the report, a Minister of the Crown must by regulations update the definition of affordable housing as set out in Annex 2 to the National Planning Policy Framework.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment means that the Government must update the definition of affordable housing following a consultation.

I apologise but, given that we are running over what we thought was the anticipated time for starting, and given the large number of topics to discuss today on Report, I respectfully remind all participants to have a brevity objective in mind, as required in the Companion for Report stage.

As I was saying, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for their support for my Amendment 201. My amendment inserts a new clause for the definition of affordable housing. It asks that, within 90 days of when the

“Act is passed, a Minister … must publish the report of a consultation on the definition of affordable housing”.

Following the publication of that report, within 30 days, the definition must be updated in the National Planning Policy Framework. The reason we have put this forward is because we feel that the current definition in the National Planning Policy Framework is simply not fit for purpose.

Earlier today, we passed the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, on social housing. He is not in his place, but I point out that getting that sorted out is part of managing our problem with affordable housing. So, in many ways, although they are not in the same group, these amendments in fact work together. The noble Lord is also the chair of the Affordable Housing Commission, and although he is not here, I pay tribute to the important work that he has done with that. The Affordable Housing Commission has produced an important report on this issue, Making Housing Affordable Again, which I urge all noble Lords with an interest to study.

When we consider affordable housing, we need to look at a number of issues, the first of which is to ask who has a problem with it. What the commission did was to divide the overall picture into four different groups: struggling renters; low-income older households; struggling home owners; and frustrated first-time buyers. So this issue affects a very large proportion of our population, including people who are trying to find themselves a decent, secure home. The way that housing affordability is currently defined and measured is as rents or purchase costs that are lower than in the open marketplace; we believe that that definition is both misleading and confusing. It is a crude definition, which is not helping to solve the problem. It brings “affordable housing” to a level that is way beyond the means of many who need a home.

The commission offers a new definition of affordability, which views the issue from the perspective of the household and not from the marketplace—as the current definition does. What can people pay for their housing without risking financial and personal problems? Who is facing these problems of unaffordability, and exactly what is the scale of the problem?

The NPPF definition of affordable housing is made with reference to various housing products, from social rent to low-cost home ownership. Even if eligibility is bounded by local incomes, except for social rent, of course, affordable housing remains market-led, rather than being defined by personal income. This has led to a number of local authorities being extremely sceptical about their ability to deliver the affordable housing their areas need.

A cursory glance at the affordable rent level shows that in many areas a three-bedroom, affordable-rent property cost £400 per week. This is clearly way out of the pocket of many people in this country. I suggest that the Government look at what the Affordable Housing Commission is calling on them to do. We believe it provides a good starting point for solving the housing crisis we are in.

First, it suggests a rebalancing of the housing system so that there will be affordable housing opportunities for all by 2045. Affordable housing should be made a national priority and placed at the centre of a national housing strategy. The safety net for struggling renters and home owners should be improved. A new definition and alternative measures of housing affordability should be adopted which relate to people’s actual income and circumstances, rather than just to the market.

We agree with the Affordable Housing Commission. Will the Minister accept that the current definition is not fit for purpose? In order to help the very many people who are struggling either to buy or rent a home, will the Government put into the Bill a commitment to act to change the definition so that affordable housing actually means what it says?

I have spoken on this issue a number of times. Others are saying what we are saying. The Affordable Housing Commission is saying it. People who understand the system and have identified how it can be changed for the better are offering concrete, constructive ways in which things can be improved. I hope that the Minister can accept my amendment as a starting point on this journey to improve the current situation. If I do not have her assurance that this will be the case, I will test the opinion of the House on this matter.

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 201 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. As she clearly set out, there is a complete absence of focus on what is and is not affordable when it comes to government policy-making. That policy is in desperate need of overhaul and a recalibration. This amendment puts that overhaul firmly on the agenda. It is a fitting addition to the Bill. I hope that the Minister will accept it. If not, I and my colleagues will strongly support the noble Baroness in pressing it to a vote.

In Committee, I made the case as strongly as I could that the highly desirable objective of the provision of affordable housing, which is shared on all sides of this Chamber, is not being achieved in real life. It has failed by a wide margin, as the noble Baroness has just set out. At present, about half of affordable homes—the ones which are given capital letters by policy-makers—are supposedly delivered through planning obligations placed on developers. The reality is that in many parts of England this is being completely undermined by basing the calculation of affordability on a figure of 80% of the open-market price of that property on that site or, for renters, of 80% of the market rent. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, gave one practical example of the consequence of this for renters.

Amendment 201 calls for a review. The Minister may reply that all government policies are under constant review, but when she replied in Committee, I got the impression that any such review of this policy has not been particularly diligent. It certainly has not been timely or purposeful. This amendment would put that right and task the Government with producing a review and publishing it, with recommendations for a change, on a short, fixed timescale.

In Committee, I drew noble Lords’ attention to the experience of my noble friend Lord Foster, who unfortunately cannot be with us today, in his local area of Southwold in east Suffolk. A so-called affordable estate, built with £1 million of government subsidy, is so out of the price range of people on median incomes there that its homes have proved unsaleable and the developer has been released from the planning obligation. The homes are now going on the open market. This is not in inner London; it is 100 miles away. In Southwold, the price/median earnings ratio of the affordable homes, at 80% of full price, is still 13:1, reduced from 17:1 for full-price homes. Obviously, that is completely out of the reach of those seeking an affordable home.

I am sure that the Minister will know of similar circumstances in many other places. It is certainly true in Cheshire and Derbyshire, for instance—they are known to me—and is quite possibly so in Wiltshire as well. Far too often, affordable homes as delivered by planning obligations are nothing of the sort. I sometimes think that saying this out loud is seen as swearing in church. Nobody seems to confront this obvious truth. This Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill is exactly the place to begin putting that right. It must be the case that when median incomes in a locality are not sufficient to buy such homes, it is misleading to describe them as affordable, wrong to put them on the credit sides of the affordable homes balance sheet and deceitful to boast that their provision makes a worthwhile contribution to fulfilling an election promise.

Amendment 201 would kick off that process of reform, but my Amendment 201A and its consequential amendment, Amendment 285A—they are also in this group—would go further by setting out the principles that should underlie that review. Those principles have been set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. They include the principle that affordability must be defined by reference to the income of the purchaser or renter, not solely by the inflated price on the open market. My amendment does not specify the mechanics or precise formula for that. The Affordable Housing Commission certainly provides a professionally generated one, while two others were quoted in Committee. We all know how it can be achieved, but the vital point of any government review must be to take into account the obvious truth that the current measuring stick is not solving the problem of affordability but is instead costing the Treasury a hatful of cash, which is being wasted and at the same time leaves many families stuck in wretched housing conditions.

There is a second part to my Amendment 201A, which I believe would help to close the yawning gap between open market prices and affordable home prices. It would disapply the current exemption in the Freedom of Information Act for the disclosure of viability calculations used by developers when haggling with local planning authorities over their planning obligations. At present, commercial confidentiality can be exploited to leverage cuts in affordable home provision, and it often is. Transparency would ensure that there was no temptation to inflate falsely the figures of costs that are deployed in those negotiations. It would also be likely to lead, over time, to less profligate bidding and purchasing of land by developers. Simply by removing that commercial exemption in this specific situation, at nil cost to the public purse, more affordable homes will be provided by developers. It is a no-brainer and one that I hope the Minister will find irresistible.

If levelling-up is to proceed from an election slogan to real delivery, it has a long road to travel. On that road, an essential milestone will be a proper affordable homes policy. Amendments 201 and 201A would provide the Government with that milestone. I hope that they pass today.

My Lords, I rise with pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to speak to Amendment 201, to which I have attached my name. Essentially, I associate myself with everything that they said. I will seek not to repeat them but just make a couple of additional points.

Democracy demands clarity. We all know that we are heading into a general election, in which discussion of affordable housing will be right up there at the top of the agenda. We need to set out a definition about what we are talking about, if we are to have a sensible debate about our housing policy future.

For any noble Lords who have not seen it, I recommend the excellent briefing from the House of Commons Library—if I am allowed to recommend that—on the definition of affordable housing in July this year. One of its top headlines is:

“No agreed definition of affordable housing”.

It notes that the most commonly used framework is that of the National Planning Policy Framework, used by local planning authorities, which takes in social rent, as well as a range of so-called intermediate rent and for-sale products. As the Affordable Housing Commission of 2020 concluded, “many” of these so-called affordable homes are “clearly unaffordable” for those on middle or lower incomes.

This being the House of Lords, we should look for a second at the historical framework of this. If we go back to 1979, we see that nearly half of the British population lived in what were clearly affordable homes—they lived in council homes, with council rents. That reality is not that long ago. We have since seen the massive privatisation of right to buy, and a move towards treating housing primarily as a financial asset, rather than as homes in which people can securely, comfortably, safely and healthily live. That is what brings us to this point today. This amendment is not going to fix that but it would at least set out the clarity of terms for us to be able to talk about this in a practical kind of way.

I looked at the Green Party policy for a sustainable society. It starts with the absolute foundation, stating that it is

“a universal human right to shelter which is affordable, secure and to a standard adequate for the health and well-being of the household”.

That is why we are now saying today: right homes, right place and right price. We need to think about what that price means. In the Green Party we have set out very clearly what we believe the right price is. On purchase, we should be looking to move towards a situation where house prices are not more than four times average salaries. On rent, where the real extreme levels of suffering are now, there should be a living rent—a definition backed by many of the NGOs. Genuinely affordable housing means that median local rents would not take up more than 35% of median local take-home pay. That is what I would set out.

I could perhaps have put down an amendment to set those figures out, but that is not what I have done. What I have said instead is that we need to set out the terms of this debate, as this amendment does. I strongly commend Amendment 201 to your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, have all spoken eloquently on Amendment 201, which I support. I thank them for tabling it.

The independent Archbishops’ Commission on Housing reported in March 2021, and your Lordships’ House may recall the debate that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury secured on 24 March 2021, on the subject of housing. I simply wish to highlight a few points from that which I believe are relevant to the debate on this amendment.

The first is that the object of central government policy and of legislation should always be the ready provision of good housing—homes in which people want to live, in areas capable of flourishing. Too often, sadly, that is not the case, and we build among the smallest dwellings in Europe. Secondly, we require a bipartisan approach that enables a consistent policy to be followed across decades, and not one that is beholden to the sort of interests that have so limited housebuilding. It is worth remembering, as has already been mentioned today, that the last year in which we achieved house- building at the current target of 300,000 was 1969, over 50 years ago. Thirdly, we require a definition of affordable housing that relates specifically to income. Without this, any policy on affordable housing will fail. I support Amendment 201.

My Lords, Amendment 201 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, relates to the definition of affordable housing. The amendment proposes a consultation on the definition that currently appears in the National Planning Policy Framework. We have had good debates about these issues, both today and in Committee, and I recognise the strength of feeling around the importance of ensuring that affordable housing meets the needs of those who require it.

I can reaffirm the Government’s commitment to delivering more houses for social rent. We are carefully considering the consultation responses to our proposal to amend national planning policy to make clear that local planning authorities should give greater importance in planning for social rent homes. A large number of the new homes delivered through our £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme will be for social rent.

Nevertheless, it is also important that the definition of affordable housing in the NPPF provides local authorities with sufficient flexibility to plan for the type of affordable housing that is needed in their area. The existing definition includes a range of affordable housing products for those whose needs are not met by the market. Those needs will vary depending on people’s circumstances and in different housing markets.

I am also mindful of the point made during our debate in Committee by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, about the trade-off between the level of discount that a type of affordable housing provides and the number of such homes that can be delivered.

We all agree that we need to consider this issue further. That is why we have committed to a wider review of the national planning policy once the Bill has received Royal Assent. That will include the production of a suite of national development management policies. This work will need to consider all aspects of national policy—and that includes the way that affordable housing is defined and addressed—and would be subject to consultation. I look forward in that consultation to hearing all the views from the sectors which have been mentioned this afternoon. I think we all agree on this.

What we do not agree on is how we should process this particular issue that we want to deliver. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, feels able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.

Amendments 201A and 285A from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, raise two important matters relating to affordable housing. The first matter is how affordable housing is defined for the purposes of this Bill. The approach has been to link this to the definition of social housing in the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. This definition encompasses both rented and low-cost home ownership accommodation that is made available in accordance with rules designed to ensure it is made available to people whose needs are not adequately served by the commercial housing market. While I understand the noble Lord’s argument that affordable housing should be defined more tightly, I am eager to avoid depriving local authorities of sufficient flexibility to determine what is most appropriate to meet the needs of their area.

However, the Government are taking action to secure the delivery of more social rented homes, as I have said, for which rents are set using a formula that takes account of relative local incomes. A large number of these new homes, as I have said before, will be delivered through our £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme and will be for social rent.

We are also carefully considering the consultation responses to our proposal to amend the national planning policy to make clear that local planning authorities should give greater importance in planning for social rent homes. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, also raised the disclosure of information relating to the viability of affordable housing in housing developments. Although I recognise that the noble Lord is seeking to improve the transparency of this process, I do not believe that the change he is proposing is necessary. As discussed earlier on Report, the new infrastructure levy will allow local authorities to require developers to pay a portion of their levy liability in kind in the form of on-site affordable housing. This new “right to require” is designed to replace site-specific negotiations of affordable housing contributions.

While viability assessments may be used in setting infrastructure levy rates, any developer that wishes information to be taken into account must submit it to be examined in public. Levy rates and charging schedules will be matters of public record.

I hesitate to interrupt the Minister, but can she confirm that the infrastructure levy will not be operational in most of England for another eight or 10 years?

As the noble Lord knows, we have already discussed this. We will have a test and learn throughout the country and then a rollout, but with any large change in any planning system, as with the community infrastructure levy, it will take time—up to 10 years, we believe.

Levy rates and charging schedules will be matters of public record, as I said. For these reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will agree not to move his amendments.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and the Minister for her response. I welcome the right honourable Michael Gove to the Chamber and thank him for taking the time to listen to our debate. Clearly, he is enthralled by our discussions at the moment, and I am sure that he will take our concerns away for further consideration.

I thank the Minister for spelling out the Government’s commitment to social housing through the affordable homes programme and for the wider review that she talked of. I understand the need for flexibility that she talked about for local authorities. However, this does not change the fact that houses classed as affordable should actually be affordable and currently are not. Otherwise, what on earth is the point of having the definition?

I am afraid I have heard nothing to convince me that the Government are serious about changing the definition. On that basis, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 201A not moved.

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

Amendments 201B to 201D

Moved by

201B: Schedule 8, page 389, line 39, at end insert—

“(8A) In paragraph 7ZA (inserted by paragraph 156 of Schedule 4), in paragraph (b) of the definition of “constituent planning authority”, for “29” substitute “15J”.(8B) For paragraph 7ZB (inserted by paragraph 156 of Schedule 4) substitute—“7ZB “(1) This paragraph applies if the Secretary of State thinks that a constituent planning authority are failing to do anything it is necessary or expedient for them to do in connection with the preparation, adoption or revision of a local plan.(2) If the local plan has not come into effect, the Secretary of State may invite the combined county authority to take over preparation of the local plan from the constituent planning authority, in which case the combined county authority may do so.(3) If the local plan has come into effect, the Secretary of State may invite the combined county authority to revise the local plan, in which case the combined county authority may do so.”(8C) In paragraph 7ZC (inserted by paragraph 156 of Schedule 4)—(a) in sub-paragraph (1), for “development plan document” substitute “local plan”;(b) after that sub-paragraph insert—“(1A) If the combined county authority are to prepare the local plan, the combined county authority must publish a document setting out—(a) their timetable for preparing the plan, and(b) if they intend to depart from anything specified in a local plan timetable in relation to the plan, details of how they intend to depart from it.”;(c) for sub-paragraph (4) substitute—“(4) The combined county authority may then—(a) where the combined county authority have prepared a local plan, approve the local plan subject to specified modifications or direct the constituent planning authority to consider adopting the local plan by resolution of the authority, or(b) where the combined county authority are to revise a local plan, make the revision or make the revision subject to specified modifications.”(8D) In paragraph 7ZD (inserted by paragraph 156 of Schedule 4)—(a) for sub-paragraph (1) substitute—“(1) Subsections (4) to (12) of section 15D, and section 15DA, apply to an examination held under paragraph 7ZC(2)—(a) reading references to the local planning authority as references to the combined county authority, and(b) in the case of an independent examination of a proposed revision, reading references to a local plan as references to the revision.”;(b) in sub-paragraph (3)(a), omit “or omitted”;(c) in sub-paragraph (4)—(i) for “joint local development document or a joint development plan document” substitute “joint local plan”;(ii) for “the document” substitute “the plan”.” Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment to Schedule 8 to the Bill makes amendments to Schedule A1 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 in connection with provision for development plans under Part 3 of the Bill. The amendments amend and supplement consequential amendments to Schedule A1 to the 2004 Act made by Schedule 4 to the Bill relating to the creation of combined county authorities.

201C: Schedule 8, page 391, line 34, after “6(4)(a)” insert “, 7ZC(4)(a)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment to Schedule 8 to the Bill makes amendments to Schedule A1 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 in connection with provision for development plans (under Part 3 of the Bill) to reflect amendments made to Schedule A1 by Schedule 4 to the Bill in relation to the creation of combined county authorities.

201D: Schedule 8, page 391, line 35, after “6(4)(b)” insert “, 7ZC(4)(b)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment to Schedule 8 to the Bill makes amendments to Schedule A1 to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 in connection with provision for development plans (under Part 3 of the Bill) to reflect amendments made to Schedule A1 by Schedule 4 to the Bill in relation to the creation of combined county authorities.

Amendments 201B to 201D agreed.

Amendment 202 not moved.

Clause 99: Removal of compensation for building preservation notice

Amendment 202A

Moved by

202A: Clause 99, page 109, line 1, at end insert—

“(A1) The Listed Buildings Act is amended as follows.(A2) In section 3 (temporary listing in England: building preservation notices), after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) Before serving a building preservation notice under this section, the local planning authority must consult with the Commission. (1B) Subsection (1A) does not apply where the Commission proposes to serve a building preservation notice under this section (see subsection (8)).””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new duty into the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 for local planning authorities to consult the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England (“Historic England”) before serving a building preservation notice under that Act. The duty does not apply in cases where Historic England is carrying out the functions of a local planning authority.

My Lords, I will speak to this group of amendments as Minister for Heritage. I will speak first to Amendments 202A and 202B, which regard building preservation notices.

His Majesty’s Government recognise that, although building preservation notices provide a useful means of protecting buildings for up to six months while they are being considered for listing, it is important that they should not be used inappropriately or injudiciously.

Further to our debate in Committee, my amendment to Clause 99 should help to provide that reassurance. It introduces a requirement on local planning authorities to consult Historic England before serving a building preservation notice, drawing on Historic England’s expert knowledge about the historic environment to help advise local planning authorities before they issue a building preservation notice. This practice is common- place today, although not universal; the amendment seeks to solidify this practice as a duty on the local planning authority. In addition, His Majesty’s Government will issue guidance after the Bill has become law, setting out the manner in which local planning authorities need to consult Historic England. For example, where the planning authority’s view differs from Historic England’s, it should set out why it has come to that conclusion.

By tabling this amendment, the Government are showing that we have listened to the concerns raised at earlier stages yet remain committed to ensuring the best protection possible for our nation’s most loved and valued heritage.

I am grateful in particular to Historic Houses for the time and willingness they have shown in discussing this issue with me.

I turn to Amendment 271A, in my name, which concerns blue plaques. For a century and a half, blue plaques have helped people to learn about and celebrate their local heritage and to take pride in their local community. More than 900 have been erected, celebrating people as diverse as Ada Lovelace, Jimi Hendrix and Mohandas Gandhi—but only in London, for, while there are many brilliant local schemes across the country, the official scheme backed in statute is limited to London alone.

That in itself is a quirk of history. The scheme was established by the Royal Society of Arts in 1866. In 1901, it was taken over by the London County Council, then by the Greater London Council and, when that was abolished via the Local Government Act 1985, responsibility passed to the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, which is now Historic England. The 1985 Act gives it discretionary power to operate the scheme in Greater London but not elsewhere. That limits the people and places that can be celebrated by this world-renowned scheme.

Indeed, the politician who inspired it, William Ewart, was a Member of another place representing Liverpool, his native city. He also represented Wigan, and Bletchingley in Surrey, and he died in Devizes in Wiltshire. None of those places is covered by the scheme that he bequeathed us.

I am therefore tabling an amendment to insert a new clause after Clause 226, extending Historic England’s current discretionary power to operate the blue plaque scheme across England. I am doing so with the aim of creating one cohesive scheme throughout England, celebrating links between notable figures from our past and the buildings where they lived and worked, showing that people who went on to leave their mark on the world were drawn from every corner of our country and all sorts of backgrounds.

People across the country will be able to nominate notable figures with a connection to their local area for national recognition. Officials in my department are working with Historic England and English Heritage Trust to develop this England-wide scheme, aiming to get the new plaques erected in the next few months and learning from the excellent work done by English Heritage while running the scheme since 1986 to build a scheme that can operate from 2025 when the new licence period from Historic England begins.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for signing the amendment, as well as my noble friend Lord Mendoza, whom I am delighted to welcome as the new chairman of Historic England, following in the footsteps of the excellent Sir Laurie Magnus. I am also glad that this amendment has received the support of the Local Government Association and am grateful to Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson in particular for his enthusiastic engagement on this issue.

Government Amendments 301A and 315ZB are consequential. They provide that the clause applies to England and Wales and that it comes into force two months after Royal Assent.

Finally, I turn to government Amendment 284, which gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations amending the heritage provisions in the Bill once enacted. Any such amendments will be purely technical and limited to changes which are needed to ensure that the heritage provisions in the Bill work as intended. Government Amendments 289 and 296 are consequential and provide that any regulations made under this power should follow the negative procedure.

I hope that, with that explanation and reassurance, noble Lords will be willing to support the government amendments in this group. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to speak to two amendments in this group. Under Section 72(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, on making planning decisions in conservation areas,

“special attention shall be paid to the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of that area”.

Local planning authorities have a wide degree of discretion in deciding whether applications for development in conservation areas pass this statutory test. In my local borough, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, planning officers do not normally live in or near the relevant conservation area and 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.

The problem is particularly acute in the royal borough, where harmful decisions have been made in the past and then been used as 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 document, Managing Significance in Decision-Taking in the Historic EnvironmentHistoric Environment Good Practice Advice in Planning: 2, 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”—

which, of course, includes the entirety of a 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 on the exercise of delegated powers or in their advisory reports to planning committees recommending the approval of an inappropriate development without clear or compelling justification. The exercise is all too subjective, frequently a reflection of poor taste and simply wrong.

My amendment in Committee was to insert at the end of Section 72(1),

“and (in relation thereto) to any views expressed by persons living in that area”.

I believe that making such an amendment would have a significant and beneficial impact on the content of planning officers’ reports, in that they would need to include a special section identifying clearly such views of local residents as have been expressed and, as the case may be, explaining why the officers’ views should be accepted, rather than those of local residents.

I also believe that such an amendment would have a significant and beneficial impact on the approach taken by planning committees, which would need to change from an instinctive desire to accept officers’ recommendations to a real determination to understand and respect the views of local residents. If the planning officers wish to substitute their own opinions on what is good for a conservation area, the amendment would require them to explain clearly and convincingly why they seek to do so and why views of local residents should not be respected.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, objected to my amendment on the grounds that:

“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.”—[Official Report, 20/4/23; col.847.]

I strongly disagree that it would be. Nevertheless, I have recast the amendment for Report to avoid this objection by requiring special attention to be paid to

“any relevant guidance given by Historic England”,

instead of

“any views expressed by persons living in that area”.

I will also speak to Amendment 204. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea used to insert a standard condition on planning approvals in conservation areas that any replacement of sliding sash windows fronting the street should be like-for-like. The owner of a house in Moore Street put an ugly, non-sliding sash window in a breach of planning conditions. The local residents association complained to the council and asked planning enforcement to get it removed. The local ward councillor, who was also the cabinet member for planning at the time, sent them an email saying, “I have just been to see the window. It is clearly inappropriate and will need to be replaced as soon as possible”. The enforcement officer then sent an email agreeing with the complaint, and an enforcement notice was duly served. The owner then told the council that his new window was in fact permitted development, so the enforcement notice was cancelled, and the enforcement officer sent a second email saying that the council had no control over its staff. The window remains.

My proposed solution is to amend class A.3(a) of Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the GPDO, which currently reads,

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

My amendment would add the wording:

“and, in respect of a replacement window in a conservation area, the style and colour”.

The Minister responded:

“For windows specifically, under nationally set permitted development rights, homeowners are able to enlarge, improve or alter their homes, subject to certain conditions and limitations to minimise their impact. As an improvement, the permitted development regulations allow the installation of new doors and windows. We have no plans to further restrict the ability of people to replace windows in conservation areas”.

My rejoinder to this is: what is the logic of requiring similar materials but not similar style or colour? The Minister does not explain. When granting planning permission for replacement windows in conservation areas, local planning authorities frequently impose like-for-like conditions to preserve the character and appearance of the conservation area. I sympathise with making the replacement of windows in conservation areas permitted development, provided the replacement windows appear like for like. GPDO should be amended to reflect this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, opposed the amendment as premature to accept in advance of a current review of planning barriers that households can face when installing energy-efficient measures, including double glazing. I do not see that the amendment would cut across recommendations arising from the review. The noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Pinnock, both made the point that like-for-like replacement windows of wood and glass can be very expensive. I agree, and this points to a defect in the current permitted development right, which is a requirement for similar materials. In a conservation area, it is the appearance that matters, so the requirement should be for a similar style and colour, rather than similar materials. These days it is possible to buy much cheaper replacement windows, made of composite material, which appear identical to the original, so why is this not permitted? However, the existing permitted development right is subject to a similar materials condition and applies to all exterior developments other than conservatories—that is, not just windows and in all areas, not just conservation areas. Therefore, I cannot recast the amendment to replace “materials” with “style and colour”, as I would like. So the amendment has been retabled for Report. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, which I tabled as new clauses in Committee. I am again very grateful to the Victorian Society for helping us do this. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for the amendments he introduced this afternoon; they are very welcome and very overdue. With a very ancient hat on, I remember that some of the best times I had at English Heritage was unveiling plaques—I unveiled a plaque when Yoko Ono and John Lennon had lived in Notting Hill for just the right amount of time to get a blue plaque. I think that William Hewitt will be very pleased, as will the new chair—I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, on his appointment.

The new clauses were the subject of a very sympathetic meeting we had with the Minister before the Recess. I was very grateful to him, so I shall not reiterate much of what I said. We just need to hear what he has to say this evening.

For the record, I want to point out the anomalies that the new clauses in these amendments address. The gap in the law is affecting people and places, which is why it needs to be closed. Quite simply, permitted development means that unlisted buildings as a whole and buildings which are on the local heritage list but outside the protection of a conservation area are outside the protection of planning law. They can be demolished without challenge and without local people being able to defend them. The Minister said in Committee that Article 4 directions offer a protection: in principle they do, but they are rarely used. The way in which planning departments have been stripped out means that this already onerous business is hardly ever used, because there are not the people there to do it.

Amendment 204A would bring the demolition of all buildings within the scope of planning law. Amendment 204B sets out a more limited case for bringing all buildings which are on the local heritage list but outside a conservation area within the scope of planning law. This is an anomaly because, essentially, nationally listed buildings already have this protection, but it does not apply to other buildings, including locally listed buildings, as I said, which are not in a conservation area. There are other anomalies in this situation; one has to seek planning permission, for example, to “significantly amend” a building but not to knock it down. A third anomaly is that a building can be demolished while a decision is being taken. I will come back to that shortly.

I do not apologise for trying to find a simpler way by which all non-designated heritage assets can be listed and protected; frankly, we are just too casual about demolition and about reference to the local community or the impact on the local setting or character, or the environment as a whole. I argued in Committee that it was better to repurpose and reuse good and useful buildings, however idiosyncratic, than to demolish them and to involve the local community in the planning process.

It is not an arcane argument. I am sure that at the top of the Minister’s mind at the moment is the furore over the Crooked House. That is how people feel about local buildings. The Crooked House was not nationally or locally listed, but the case has raised the game—it has raised a lot of precedents about how the planning system works. Clearly, local people thought that there should have been more protection and that they should have been involved—but they were not. It was on the local list, nor on the national list. There is no protection for buildings that are simply caught up in the necessary procedures; it was under consideration for listing, but that did not help the situation. So this is a case in point. Put bluntly, were Amendment 204A to be in force now, the Crooked House could not have been demolished, but, since it was not locally listed, neither was it helped by local designation.

As I said in Committee, demolition is the nuclear option; it is just ironic that it is the one with the least involvement of the local community. Bringing demolition of all non-designated assets into the planning frame would ensure people get their rightful say in what happens in their local area. It would not prevent demolition but, critically, it enables demolition to be discussed in the context of local and master planning, which is exactly where it should be. That is within the spirit of the Bill, which is all about local engagement and involvement and better planning processes.

My second argument in favour of the catch-all amendment concerns climate change and the waste of embedded energy in the buildings that we knock down. I think that that case has been reinforced in recent weeks; it is clear that the Government are retreating from some of their convictions about net zero. I should also say, in response to the Minister in Committee, that, although national planning policy does support a transition to low carbon, the problem is that the policies in the NPPF do not apply to permitted development.

Amendment 204B is a more restricted amendment. We know of local buildings that may be humble or vernacular or even not very prepossessing but are well loved because for local people they have memory, meaning and character. Sometimes these are bleak places.

The local heritage list is still very much a work in progress and is very patchy. Few of us know which buildings are on the local list o