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Lords Chamber

Volume 832: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2023

House of Lords

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Report (7th Day)

Relevant documents: 24th, 39th and 41st Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.

My Lords, we have a very busy day ahead of us on this Bill. Given the large number of topics, and the fact that we need to try to get through as many of them as possible, I respectfully ask and remind all Members to be as brief as possible today. Thank you.

Clause 120: Fees for certain services in relation to nationally significant infrastructure 20 projects

Amendment 225

Moved by

225: Clause 120, page 152, leave out lines 21 to 26

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes subsection (4) of the new section 54A of the Planning Act 2008, being inserted by Clause 120, which contains a restriction on prescribed public authorities from charging fees where the advice, information or assistance is provided to certain excluded persons.

My Lords, I shall speak also to the other 15 government amendments in this group. Amendment 225 to Clause 120 of the Bill, along with Amendments 226 and 227, are minor and technical. In developing NSIP applications, applicants are required to consult statutory consultees who provide expert advice to ensure that infrastructure is delivered in a way that supports our objectives, including those around enhancing the natural environment, public safety and protecting historic assets.

Clause 120 provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations to set up a charging regime for specific statutory consultees to recover their costs for the services they provide to applicants when engaging on NSIP applications. Our policy objective is to ensure that applicants should pay for advice from specific statutory consultees throughout the consenting process, and to support statutory consultees to achieve full cost recovery for their services.

Exemptions in subsections (4) and (6) of the new section inserted by Clause 120 were originally included to ensure that excluded persons were not liable for the costs of advice provided to them, so that regulations could make it clear that the applicant bears liability for such costs. However, through discussions with relevant statutory consultees, it has become clear that these subsections would also prevent applicants being charged where the Secretary of State engages with statutory consultees directly. Therefore, the clause would prevent specific statutory consultees recovering costs requested by an excluded person—even from applicants—in a timely way that supports faster decisions on applications for development consent.

To ensure that the clause delivers our policy aims, I propose that new subsection (4), and in consequence, a number of excluded persons defined in new subsection (6), be removed. The removal of these exemptions is required to achieve our original policy intention, whereby statutory consultees should be able to obtain full cost recovery for the provision of their services in relation to NSIPs, regardless of the person to whom those services are provided.

I now turn briefly to government Amendments 229 and 230. In Committee, we introduced an amendment to allow prescribed bodies named in regulations to charge fees for providing advice or information in connection with applications or proposals under the planning Acts, as defined in Section 336 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which is now Clause 128 of the Bill. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, eloquently set out on behalf of the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Hayman of Ullock, that the exclusion in new subsection (3)(b) on charging for advice provided to planning decision-makers could have the effect of inhibiting charging where applicants enter into a voluntary agreement with statutory consultees to provide advice or assistance as part of the planning application.

It is obviously not the intention of the power to disincentivise proactive and early engagement between applicants and statutory consultees or prevent statutory consultees charging where an applicant has voluntarily paid for a premium service—quite the opposite. On larger-scale proposals, there may be a need to have sustained and ongoing engagement with statutory consultees. So, as with the NSIP charging powers, we have listened and are making changes to address the issues raised. Through Amendments 229 and 230, we are changing Clause 128. These changes will have the effect of removing new subsections (3)(b) and (5), which provide for the exclusion. This should allay any concerns over the scope of our charging power and will allow us to work through the model of statutory consultee charging with the sector, through regulations. I should add that we have engaged with Defra, which sponsors Natural England, and the Environment Agency, and they see this amendment as a positive step forward.

All the other government amendments in this group, starting with Amendment 263A, are consequential to the marine licensing cost recovery powers. Clause 214 as introduced, which is now Clause 222, gave the Secretary of State new powers to make regulations which set the level of fees payable for post-consent marine licence monitoring, variations and transfers, where the Secretary of State is the appropriate marine licensing authority under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. We are now extending those powers to Scottish Ministers, where the Scottish Ministers are the appropriate licensing authority under that Act in the Scottish offshore region, to avoid a legislative gap. In conclusion, the amendments are important as they remove any potential uncertainty as to the nature and scope of our cost recovery powers for statutory consultees and ensure that they can be made more effective. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will speak briefly to my Amendment 227A on an issue the Minister has already touched on: enabling statutory consultees, such as Natural England, Historic England and the Environment Agency, to charge both planning decision-makers and applicants for the advice they are required to give. That is, as the Minister noted, a valuable part of the planning system which supports the Government’s aspirations on growth and environmental sustainability.

Currently, this work is funded from statutory consultees’ ordinary budgets, and the growth in planning applications means that more and more money is drained from those ordinary budgets and away from their ordinary and very necessary work. The statutory consultees have tried to become as efficient as possible to cope, but the cost to them is now £50 million a year, and 60% of that is borne by Natural England and the Environment Agency. I declare my interests as a former chairman of Natural England’s predecessor and a former chief executive of the Environment Agency. In effect, that means that the planning system is operating with a hidden subsidy at the statutory consultees’ expense, with the major focus being on the planning proposals which present the greatest potential environmental impact due to their size and location—inevitably, those cost the most money for the statutory bodies to inquire into and report on.

As the Minister said, Clause 120 introduces charging for nationally strategic infrastructure projects, but it does not cover ordinary Town and Country Planning Act casework. I thank both Ministers, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for their assiduity and flexibility in discussing that with me and others. They have made some limited concessions, but, at the end of the day, I ask the Government: why is there not a level playing field between Town and Country Planning Act casework and casework for nationally strategic infrastructure projects? That would resolve the issue for the statutory consultees.

My amendment would put charging for casework for town and country planning applications—to give advice to local planning authorities on statutory development plans, environmental assessments and other planning work—on the same basis as the NSIP work, overcoming the issue that is currently problematic. Much as I have examined it—and many are the conversations I have had with both Ministers—I cannot see any logical reason for the charging systems to be different, so I hope that the Government will now accept my amendment.

My Lords, I remind the House of my relevant interests as a councillor and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Throughout the debates on the Bill, we have all agreed on the importance of having a plan-led approach to development. Therefore, an effective local authority planning service is key to implementing timely decisions on planning applications. The House of Commons Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee issued a report on planning reforms earlier this year. The report stated that the National Audit Office found that local authority planning services had been cut by £1.3 billion over a 10-year period to 2020, which equates to a 55% reduction in service spending. That is from the National Audit Office, so we cannot argue with those figures.

A Local Government Association survey in 2022 found that 58% of councils had trouble in recruiting planners—and, in county councils, that rose to 83%. The Royal Town Planning Institute estimates that one in 10 planning officer posts are not currently filled. From my own experience in my council, I know that senior planners are enticed into the private sector, leaving councils less well equipped to deal with complex applications. The enormous stress on planning services has the consequence of putting an additional delay on development, which adds programming problems for housebuilders and developers of commercial units. Amendment 235 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham—who I thank for adding his name to an amendment on issues that we both raised separately in Committee—would insert a new clause to address those practical issues. It would enable a local planning authority to set a level of fee that covers the costs of a planning application.

I appreciate that the Government have agreed to increase planning fees by 35% for major applications and by 25% for all other applications. Of course, that is a step in the right direction. However, nationally set fees fail to take into account regional differences in costs; they also fail to reflect the actual costs of dealing with very complex developments, either very large housing sites or commercial developments.

This national approach to fee setting results in council tax payers subsidising complex planning applications. That cannot be right. The stark fact is that 305 out of 343 local authority planning departments had a deficit totalling £245.4 million in 2020 and 2021. That is a huge sum, where council tax payers are subsidising housebuilding developers, for example, who are well able to meet the costs of a planning application in full.

In addition, of course, there are the Government amendments that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, has spoken about this morning, which are a good step forward in conceding the argument made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about statutory consultees being paid for the work that they do—that is right and proper. But this adds to the bill that local authority planning services have to pay and it adds to the cost. All in all, there will be additional costs for the work being done. I think that the Government have made some concessions to the principle that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has asked about and I support that. I wish that they had gone further, as she argues, but it is one step in the right direction.

I will of course listen carefully to the response from the Minister to Amendment 235, but I feel strongly about this issue. It is not a matter of principle; it is a practical amendment to enable local authority planning services to provide the service that they are required to do and that they want to do, but for which they need the funds to do. If the Minister is unable to concede that principle, I will be minded at the appropriate stage to test the opinion of the House on this matter.

My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 235, which I proposed in Committee and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has just spoken. Since Committee, the need for it has become more urgent, as reflected in the report of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee in July, which concluded:

“The Government’s reforms to national planning policy will fail if local authorities lack sufficient resources to implement them. The package of support which the Government has outlined does not go far enough to address the significant resourcing challenges which local authorities currently face”.

I support the amendment for two reasons. First, I do not believe that the Government should be controlling the fees charged by planning departments, as a matter of principle. They do not control other local authority fees—building regulations, parking fees, library charges, school meals, swimming pool charges—so why planning? A national cap does not reflect the different circumstances of local authorities.

The case for relinquishing control is made stronger by the aspirations in the levelling up White Paper, with its commitment to

“usher in a revolution in local democracy”.

The revolution is stopped in its tracks by the notion that local authorities should not be free to recover the costs of their planning departments.

In reply to my amendment in Committee, my noble friend the Minister said that

“having different fees creates inconsistency, more complexity and unfairness for applicants, who could be required to pay different fee levels for the same type of development. Planning fees provide clarity and consistency for local authorities, developers and home owners”.—[Official Report, 24/4/23; col. 1003.]

Let me briefly dissect that. As far as local authorities are concerned, they are the ones who sponsored my original amendment. They have since confirmed their continuing support with this statement:

“We support this amendment. Planning fees do not cover the true cost of processing planning applications. In 2020/21, 305 out of 343 local authority planning departments operated in a deficit, which totalled £245.4 million”.

As far as developers are concerned, they already have to cope with myriad different local plans and can well manage different fees. What the developers want are well-resourced planning departments that can effectively process their applications quickly. One of the reasons for the disappointing housebuilding performance is planning delays. The amendment addresses that. As for home owners, I do not think that they know that planning fees are set centrally and they are used to local authorities having different charges for libraries, parking, allotments and the rest. I do not think that they would mind if fees were set locally, as long as they got a good service.

Secondly, I do not think it right that council tax payers should have to subsidise the planning system—the hidden subsidy referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. There are more important calls on those resources, underlined by the financial problems facing Birmingham City Council. The Minister told us that the Government were consulting on increasing the fees, but in the words of the Local Government Association:

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to increase planning application fees. However, our modelling has shown that even if all application fees were uplifted by 35 per cent, the overall national shortfall for 2020/21 would have remained above £80 million”.

In his opening speech, my noble friend referred on several occasions to full-cost recovery for provision of services. That is exactly what this amendment does.

I conclude by quoting the Times, which recently, on 7 July, summed up the position:

“Britain’s planning system is grinding to a halt, with four out of five big applications now being delayed by up to two years.

Official figures show that more than half a million new developments have been delayed during the past five years as threadbare planning departments struggle to cope with even routine cases.

Industry experts said the delays were exacerbating the housing crisis, with developments now taking up to three years to get started. Councils are supposed to give developers a decision on big projects within 13 weeks, but the latest official data shows that only 19% of applications were processed in this time over the past year, down from 57% 10 years ago … Developers say that performance is damaging efforts to tackle the housing crisis and other government priorities such as installing wind and solar farms. They warn that unless the government insists on proper funding for planning departments, the housing crisis will worsen as councils will always choose refuse collections over planning when allocating scarce resources.”

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has made a powerful case and I hope that the Government will reflect in their reply on the further measures that are now needed.

My Lords, before I talk about the amendments, I take this opportunity, on Back British Farming Day, to pay tribute to and celebrate our wonderful farmers across the country—a big thank you to them.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to my interests in the register: I am now vice-president of the LGA, vice-president of the District Councils’ Network and a serving councillor in both Stevenage and Hertfordshire.

As the Minister mentioned, the government amendments in this group are technical and consequential and I do not intend to comment on them other than to link some of his comments to the other amendments.

My noble friend Lady Young’s Amendment 227A is a sensible proposal that those organisations charged with providing supporting advice to planning applications should be able to recover fees for that advice directly from applicants. For too long, the weight of providing specialist advice has fallen on the public purse or on the budgets of hard-pressed third sector organisations, as my noble friend outlined so clearly. Anyone looking at this from the outside would consider that to be unreasonable. I hope that the Government will consider my noble friend’s amendment and take it seriously. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said that there should be full cost recovery for NSIPs. We need to think about that amendment and the one that I will talk about in a moment and how we create a level playing field in this respect.

Amendment 235 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Young, seems to me the no-brainer of the Bill. For many years, the LGA has been campaigning for local authorities to be able to charge full cost recovery in relation to the actual cost of processing applications. A government report proposed this in 2010, following a consultation by Arup that demonstrated the extent to which councils are undercharging for planning under the current fixed-fee system. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, quoted the figure, which was from 2021; I expect that it is a lot more now and probably way over £250 million a year.

Of all the problems in the planning system, this seems the simplest to resolve. Over time, it would enable authorities to recruit the number of planners that they need and it would shift the cost burden of planning from the local taxpayer to the developer, who, after all, will receive the benefit of the application. I can only quote from my experience of a major town centre regeneration scheme. There were two years of planning discussions on the scheme and then literally a vanload of papers for the application when it came in, and we have just three planners in my local authority. That shows the kind of pressure on the system. Local authority budgets are more hard-pressed than they ever were, so it is hard to imagine why the Government would not accept that full cost recovery should be a basic principle of planning and that it is up to local authorities to charge their own costs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, set out clearly some of the serious impact on planning departments and the noble Lord, Lord Young, referred to the apposite conclusion of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee. As he rightly pointed out, it is a principle of devolution—something that the Bill sets out to espouse—that councils must be able to do their own thing for charging fees. That would enable them to resource their planning departments properly. It seems that again the Government are more interested in protecting the pockets of developers than in protecting the public purse, so if the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, chooses to divide the House, she will have our support.

My Lords, Amendment 227A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, seeks to impose a requirement on the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations under Clause 128 that will enable statutory consultees to charge applicants for their advice on planning applications and consents under the planning Acts. I appreciate that our Amendments 229 and 230 do not go as far as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, might like. However, given the complexity of statutory consultee charging—it is a complex field—in our view it would be unwise to rush into a radically different set of arrangements. The changes that she proposes have the potential to impose financial impacts on applicants, in particular home owners and SMEs, and they could severely affect local planning authority capacity and its ability to make timely decisions. We need to ensure that an appropriate balance is reached with any charging model.

To put that into context, there are around 28 statutory consultees prescribed nationally and around 50,000 applications a year that the big six national statutory consultees comment on. That does not include local statutory consultees, such as highways authorities. Therefore, we will need a system that works for everyone, not just a select few, and this will need to be worked through carefully and collaboratively with the sector. Against that background, I hope that the noble Baroness will see why we are reluctant to rush into the model that she proposes and that she will in fact decide not to move her Amendment 227A on that account.

Amendment 235, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, would enable local authorities to set their own planning application fees. I understand how important it is for local planning authorities to have the resources that they need to deliver an effective planning service. On 20 July, we laid regulations, as she mentioned, that will increase planning fees by 35% for the major applications and 25% for all other applications. This is a national fee increase that will benefit all local planning authorities in England. In addition to the 35% increase, local planning authorities may charge fees for providing pre-application advice or using pre-planning agreements for major schemes. Fee levels for those services are set by individual local planning authorities. It is important to factor that point into noble Lords’ consideration of this issue.

The Government do not believe that enabling local planning authorities to vary fees and charges is the way to answer resourcing issues, for several reasons. First, it does not provide any incentive to tackle inefficiencies—indeed, the opposite is true. I am not sure that I heard that point addressed either by my noble friend or by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Secondly, I have to come back to the point that the Government argued in Committee. Having different fees between local authorities would be bound to create uncertainty and, perhaps more importantly, unfairness for applicants. We have to be cognisant of the need for fairness. It is all very well for my noble friend to say that applicants will not notice if fees vary between areas. It is a question of doing what is right for all parties and not just feeding the wishes of local authorities in this area, understandable as those are, as I said. Also, at an extreme, if fees are set too high, they could risk doing what I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, does not want, which is to discourage development coming forward in the first place. For those reasons, I am afraid that I must resist the amendment and I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness will be persuaded not to move it when we reach it.

Before the noble Earl sits down—I thank him for the reply—can he just confirm that the Government are willing for council tax payers to subsidise planning applications, which are often very big applications? That is often where the fee discrepancy occurs, with very big housing developments or commercial developments. Is the noble Earl happy for the Government to see council tax payers subsidising those planning applications?

The noble Baroness’s question has a lot of hypotheses built into it. As she knows, local government funding is not just a matter of fees being charged and council tax being levied; there is of course support from central government as well. I suggest that it is very difficult to generalise in the way that she is asking me to. However, I say respectfully that she ought to remember too that local authorities can charge more for more complex cases, so there is flexibility in that sense.

Amendment 225 agreed.

Amendments 226 and 227

Moved by

226: Clause 120, page 152, leave out lines 31 to 39

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment being made to remove subsection (4) of the new section 54A of the Planning Act 2008, inserted by Clause 120, in the Minister’s name.

227: Clause 120, page 152, line 42, leave out from beginning to end of line 7 on page 153

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment being made to remove subsection (4) of the new section 54A of the Planning Act 2008, inserted by Clause 120, in the Minister’s name.

Amendments 226 and 227 agreed.

Amendment 227A not moved.

Amendment 228

Moved by

228: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—

“Infrastructure Levy and Permitted Development LegislationWithin 120 days of this Act being passed, a Minister of the Crown must publish a review of the interaction between the Infrastructure Levy and Permitted Development Legislation.”Member's explanatory statement

This means a Minister of the Crown must publish a review of the interaction between the infrastructure levy and permitted development legislation.

I beg to move the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman. During Committee, we expressed in detail our concerns about the impact that the permitted development regime had on our town centres, on the availability of commercial property, and on the provision of often poor quality and unsustainable homes in unsuitable locations, and, most importantly for the purpose of discussion of this amendment, about the fact that permitted development does not require the usual contribution from developers to local infrastructure or provision of affordable housing. This is an excellent deal for developers but an appalling one for the community. Not only have those in such communities been unable to have their say on whether or not the development takes place, or on how the impact of the development on the area can be mitigated—and neither have their democratically elected representatives—but they have also to absorb the impact of the new development with no infrastructure to support it.

Our amendment would require a Minister to consider this urgently and to publish a review within 120 days of the Bill being passed. We hope this would ensure that Ministers keep in mind that development without any contribution to the local area or mitigation of the impact is unfair on everyone—except the developers, of course. I was very grateful to the Minister for taking time during recess to meet me to discuss the issue of permitted development, among other key planning issues. She explained to me that there is likely to be a consultation taking place on infrastructure levy on permitted development, with a view to some changes, particularly in the permitted development of office to residential accommodation, so that there would be some infrastructure levy contributions considered. I look forward to hearing her response today on how this has developed.

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 243 in the name of my noble friend Lord Northbrook, who cannot be in his place today and has asked me to do my inadequate best to represent his views.

This amendment would remove the permitted development right to convert business premises outside a designated town centre into a café or restaurant. Surely if a developer in a quiet residential area wants to turn, for example, an estate agent’s office into a McDonald’s that will be open throughout the night, it should need planning permission to do so. Is that not a wholly reasonable proposition?

We were told in Committee that my noble friend Lady Scott said

“it remains the case that planning permission is required to change use to or from a pub. This ensures that local consideration can be given to any such proposals, in consultation with the local community”.

Surely local communities should have a say in the establishment of new cafés or restaurants in residential areas, not just pubs.

Several speakers in Committee mentioned the importance of breathing new life into our high streets. I emphasise from the start that the intention of my noble friend Lord Northbrook has always been to limit the permitted development right in residential areas, so the amendment has been recast from Committee to take account of this point, so that it applies only outside a designated town centre.

In Committee, my noble friend Lady Scott objected that the legislative approach of the amendment was flawed, so the amendment before your Lordships now has been recast to transfer responsibility for drafting the relevant wording to the Government. I hope that is a small task that my noble friend would be prepared to accept.

My Lords, I briefly support my noble friend. I signed this amendment originally and spoke to it briefly in Committee, and, as my noble friend Lord Lexden pointed out, it has been recast. I just put on record that I am a very strong supporter of regenerating high streets and trying to bring activity and wealth-creation into them. At the same time, from my constituency experience in North West Norfolk and representing the town on King’s Lynn, I am aware of examples where estate agents or shops that had the support of the community were converted into food outlets that led to a great deal of disturbance to local residents. We are not trying to hamper or hold back regeneration and the resurgence of activity in high streets, but to protect residents in a way that is doable and fit for purpose. I think this proposed new clause would do exactly that, so I very much support my noble friend.

My Lords, I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, said in advocating for Amendment 228. In doing so, I must join her by saying that I too must celebrate my return to the highly populated zone of LGA vice-presidents. There seems to have been a surge, and I have been carried forward in it.

The key point here is that we have to have a system where, when plans are submitted and developed, there is parallel investment in the infrastructure necessary to support the development that is proposed. The permitted development regime has provided a bypass to that process. With the arrival of the infrastructure levy, the risks of development being stranded without the supporting infrastructure have clearly risen a great deal.

I should be very interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, telling us something about how this proposed consultation will solve the problem; I have concerns that it will not. The reality is that permitted development was a step too far in its original concept. Some brakes have been applied and some sensible amendments made, but it still provides far too many opportunities for unworthy development in local communities, not supported by and embedded in those communities but in fact a blight on the areas in which they happen. I very much look forward to what the Minister has to say in response.

I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said in so ably introducing the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. It is certainly a matter of interest to many of us how town centres and peripheral areas can and should be regenerated. Again, I welcome the words of the Minister in commenting on that amendment.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for moving the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. The Government also appreciate the importance of the interaction between the infrastructure levy and development which is granted planning permission by so-called permitted development. This means, of course, development of a class for which planning permission is granted under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015—SI 2015/596.

As noble Lords are aware, most permitted development rights do not fall within the scope of the existing system of developer contributions. The infrastructure levy aims to capture more value than the existing system, and the Bill has been designed to help achieve this aim. This includes having the ability to capture land value uplift associated with permitted development, subject to provision that is made in the infrastructure levy regulations.

Our recent technical consultation sought views on how the levy could be charged on permitted development to expand the scope of developments for which levy contributions may be sought and allow local authorities to capture more value for infrastructure and affordable housing where currently little or no contributions are collected. It will take time to analyse the technical consultation responses, to undertake further review and consultation, and to develop policy as a result of that, before drafting regulations. However, I accept that this is a matter of considerable importance to the House.

We do not propose to accept the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which would require a review to be published within 120 days of the Bill being passed. We can instead commit that the Government will publish a report on how the levy will work in relation to permitted development at an appropriate point when the policy is developed. This will set out the interrelationship between the levy and permitted development. The Government will commit to doing this on or prior to the day that the infrastructure levy regulations are laid, so that the interaction between the levy and permitted development can be clearly understood. I hope that, with these clear reassurances, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Before I move on, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, seemed pretty concerned about permitted development rights. He ought to be aware that nationally permitted development rights make an important contribution to national housing delivery. In the seven years to March 2022, they delivered more than 94,000 houses, which represents 6% of the overall housing supply in that delivery period.

We want to make sure that the existing conditions and limitations that apply to permitted development rights and allow for the change of use to residential property are fit for purpose. So far, we have done this and we continue to. As I said, there is an ongoing consultation, which closes on 25 September. Any changes subject to its outcome will be brought forward via secondary legislation.

I move on to Amendment 243. I thank my noble friend Lord Lexden for putting this forward on behalf of my noble friend Lord Northbrook. The amendment seeks to restrict the flexibility of premises within Class E—the commercial, business and service use class—to be used as cafés or restaurants. As a Government, we believe that restaurants and cafés are important parts of our high streets, town centres and other parts of our country, such as towns and villages, and we do not want them to be limited. In addition, the general permitted development order cannot be used to place limits on the operation of a use class. Therefore, once again, we cannot support this amendment.

Amendment 228 withdrawn.

Clause 128: Power of certain bodies to charge fees for advice in relation to applications under the Planning Acts

Amendments 229 and 230

Moved by

229: Clause 128, page 158, leave out lines 19 to 22

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes subsection (3)(b) of the new section 303ZB of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, being inserted by Clause 128, which contains a restriction on prescribed bodies from charging fees where the advice, information or assistance is provided to certain excluded persons.

230: Clause 128, page 158, leave out lines 32 to 38

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment being made to remove subsection (3)(b) of the new section 303ZB of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, inserted by Clause 128, in the Minister’s name.

Amendments 229 and 230 agreed.

Amendment 230A

Moved by

230A: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“Biodiversity net gain: pre-development biodiversity value and habitat enhancementIn Schedule 7A to the TCPA 1990 (biodiversity gain in England)—(a) in paragraph 5(4), after “6” insert “, 6A, 6B”;(b) after paragraph 6 insert—“6A If—(a) a person carries on activities on land on or after 25 August 2023 in accordance with a planning permission (other than the planning permission referred to in paragraph 5(1)),(b) on the relevant date, development for which that other planning permission was granted—(i) has not been begun, or(ii) has been begun but has not been completed, and(c) as a result of the activities the biodiversity value of the onsite habitat referred to in paragraph 5(1) is lower on the relevant date than it would otherwise have been,the pre-development biodiversity value of the onsite habitat is to be taken to be its biodiversity value immediately before the carrying on of the activities.6B (1) This paragraph applies where there is insufficient evidence of the biodiversity value of an onsite habitat immediately before the carrying on of the activities referred to in paragraph 6 or 6A. (2) The biodiversity value of the onsite habitat immediately before the carrying on of the activities referred to in paragraph 6 or 6A is to be taken to be the highest biodiversity value of the onsite habitat which is reasonably supported by any available evidence relating to the onsite habitat.”;(c) in paragraph 10—(i) in sub-paragraph (1), after “habitat enhancement” insert “of an offsite habitat”;(ii) after sub-paragraph (1) insert—“(1A) For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1) (and without prejudice to paragraphs 3 and 4(1)), a habitat enhancement is calculated as the amount by which the projected value of the offsite habitat as at the end of the maintenance period referred to in section 100(2)(b) of the Environment Act 2021 exceeds its pre-enhancement biodiversity value.(1B) The pre-enhancement biodiversity value of an offsite habitat is the biodiversity value of the offsite habitat on the relevant date.(1C) The relevant date is—(a) the date on which the application is made to register the land subject to the habitat enhancement in the biodiversity gain site register, or(b) such other date as may be specified in the conservation covenant or planning obligation.(1D) But if—(a) a person carries on activities on an offsite habitat on or after 25 August 2023 otherwise than in accordance with—(i) planning permission, or(ii) any other permission of a kind specified by the Secretary of State by regulations, and(b) as a result of the activities the biodiversity value of the offsite habitat is lower on the relevant date than it would otherwise have been,the pre-enhancement biodiversity value of the offsite habitat is to be taken to be its biodiversity value immediately before the carrying on of the activities.”;(d) in paragraph 12(1), after the definition of “onsite habitat” insert—““offsite habitat” means habitat which is not onsite habitat;””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment inserts a new Clause in the Minister’s name which makes provision about the valuation of the pre-development biodiversity value of an onsite habitat and of the enhancement of the biodiversity of a habitat for the purposes of Schedule 7A to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 230A, and I will speak to Amendment 309B. These make clear the Government’s commitment to ensuring that biodiversity net gain achieves its intended positive outcomes for nature. They seek to reduce incentives for site clearance on development sites and on sites generating off-site units.

Biodiversity net gain is a flagship government policy. Officials are working closely with stakeholders to prepare for its implementation. It will mean that new developments improve nature and, as its name suggests, will be a net gain for nature. We have heard concerns raised that developers would be incentivised to clear habitats prior to the submission of a planning application or site survey. We have brought forward government Amendments 230A and 309B to address this concern.

The Environment Act already requires the use of a historic baseline of on-site habitat for sites where habitats have been degraded. These amendments go further and ensure that a precautionary approach to the baseline habitat for these sites must be undertaken when sufficient evidence is not available.

These amendments also seek to close a potential loophole in legislation. Currently, a site could be cleared under an existing planning permission, even if the development and biodiversity gains of this permission were not completed. Then, a new permission could be applied for, using the cleared site as the baseline for BNG purposes. These amendments will prevent this.

The amendments also ensure that habitats will not be cleared in advance of delivering habitat creation off-site in order to sell biodiversity units. Without these amendments, an area of off-site habitat could be cleared and then recreated and sold as habitat enhancement. These amendments will prevent this by requiring that pre-enhancement measurements of biodiversity are registered before any activity that lowers the biodiversity value.

Noble Lords will note that these amendments will apply retrospectively, back to the date of tabling. We have secured law officer agreement to this approach, which is important to make sure that people do not use the period between now and the commencement of these provisions to reduce their habitats’ baselines. I hope noble Lords will see how important these amendments are in addressing these concerns within the existing BNG framework.

I go on to thank my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge for tabling Amendment 282M and the supplementary Amendment 288C. I am pleased to continue the conversation about the importance of these treasured landscapes. Having thoroughly considered Amendment 282M, we are content to accept it in principle. Protected landscapes are crucial delivery partners for so many of our goals for nature, climate and rural communities. We agree that their management plans should be enhanced and that the contribution of partners should be bolstered. This amendment takes a balanced, proportionate approach to achieving these aims. We have a wish to consider any technical drafting amendments that may be required to ensure that the amendment operates correctly in practice. The Government are therefore undertaking to bring forward a similar amendment at Third Reading. This will ensure that protected landscapes organisations continue to be at the heart of our work to unleash rural prosperity and create a network of beautiful, nature-rich spaces that can be enjoyed by all parts of society. This will be supplemented by our upcoming protected landscape outcomes framework and updated guidance, further delivering the Government’s response to the landscapes review.

I take this opportunity to extend my and the Government’s continued thanks to Julian Glover and his panel for this superb piece of work. I also thank my noble friend Lord Randall for his tireless work on this matter, which I know is dear to his heart. With that commitment, I hope my noble friend will not move his amendment and will agree to work with us as we take this forward to, in principle, the same amendment at the next stage.

My Lords, I should first declare some interests. When I spoke on the swift bricks amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Goldsmith the other night, I was so excited that I forgot to declare them. I hope I can make an apology. I have many conservation interests, including as a councilman with the RSPB—particularly relevant to the swift bricks—and, for consideration later today, as a member of the advisory board of River Action, which might give noble Lords an indication of where my interests will lie this afternoon.

I also have some good news. My noble friend the Minister has given me some, which I will come back to, but mine is this: I am losing my voice. I think that will be generally approved of on all sides of the House.

I know my noble friend has been working tirelessly and I thank all those members of the Government in the two departments—the Secretaries of State and the Ministers, as well as many others—who have got us to where we are today. In particular, apart from thanking Julian Glover, who, as my noble friend said, did this excellent review, I thank two strong allies on this from across the Chamber: the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, who tabled the original amendment in Committee when I was elsewhere, occupied in hospital, and the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown. Their support has kept me going.

I know that I have begun to sound like a record with a needle stuck in it, but I think it has paid off. I thank everybody concerned with this. National parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are what we are about, and biodiversity in those areas is depleted. I am pleased that the Government have recognised this and the need for legislation.

My Lords, I will speak very briefly. I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority. I thank the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. It has taken a long time coming, but I will not be churlish at this point; I am glad that, eventually, the very sensible, common-sense arguments that the national parks have put forward on this issue have been listened to. I have read the Written Ministerial Statement on this. The Minister has echoed that, more or less, in technical terms, our amendment has been accepted and they will just tweak it somewhat. Obviously, we would like to see the final version of it, but I am sure it will appear in good faith. I thank him for that.

My Lords, I will speak very briefly, just to say a huge thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitchurch, for the three of us working together, and most of all to the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, for taking note and working this through. We have come to the point where we will have a good outcome for nature, but also a good outcome for the local economies and the people who work in these areas. I believe it is a win-win for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty in the UK.

My Lords, I hate to dampen the overall enthusiasm, but I would just like to put in a word for the countryside and those who live and work in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. They sometimes feel that their interests are overlooked. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister in being mindful of their interests when he comes to draft his amendment, if he would do so.

My Lords, this is a good day. I thank all noble Lords who have worked hard with the Government to get to a place where there is landscape protection for those areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks. I am fortunate to live in a place where I can easily get to three great national parks—the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors and the Peak District—so I particularly welcome, from a selfish point of view, what has been achieved here.

Turning to government Amendment 230A, I am pleased that the Government have closed a loophole here in the way that biodiversity net gain is measured. That is very positive. I applaud the whole biodiversity net gain approach.

I will make one comment about an issue which constantly concerns me when dealing with local planning applications: applicants trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities in biodiversity net gain. As the Minister will know, there is a hierarchy of how applicants can achieve biodiversity net gain—on site, close to, by, or as near as possible. If you live in a built-up area like me, “as near as possible” can be a big distance away. The town where I live—I guess this happens to small towns all across the place—will often see its biodiversity further depleted because the hierarchy allows applicants to put their biodiversity net gain at some distance away. I wonder whether the Minister could perhaps address that and enhance what I believe is a very positive approach adopted by the Government.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s amendments that have been tabled in recognition of previous concerns expressed by your Lordships. As a member of Friends of the Lake District, I am pleased to see that the Government have pretty much accepted the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall. It is important. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Randall, my noble friend Lady Jones and the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, for their comments and support for that.

Those of us who live in areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks know that there is so much that we can do to enhance nature, increase natural beauty, support our cultural heritage, and work to support climate change and the local people who live there. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, brings this about by implementing much of what was in the Glover review. Again, I thank the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for all their work on this. These are important amendments, and they will improve our countryside.

My Lords, I will respond to a couple of the points made. First, my noble friend Lord Randall probably took my place on the advisory board of River Action UK, from which I had to resign to take this job. I wish him well in that organisation.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh raises a point she has raised with me before. There are duties on national parks and AOBs to support the local rural economy, and this is very much in line with that. The Glover review was very clear on that, but I will continue to give her the reassurances I can.

To the noble Baroness I say that we have a whole range of different planning requirements and strategies that seek to hardwire green infrastructure into new developments. Biodiversity net gain incentivises developers to find as many sites within those schemes and to green them as much as they can, and, where they cannot, to find other locations to do that nearby. Some will have to be traded on biodiversity credit schemes to be further away, but the key point is that this is a net gain for nature. This is making sure that, from now on, we will see a different approach, which will recognise how nature has been depleted in the past and seek to work to the Government’s very demanding ambitions to reverse the declines in nature by 2030, and to see the continued meaningful protection of land.

I live in an AOB and entirely accept the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, has made, on frequent occasions, that if these areas are to contribute to our 30 by 30 target, they have got to be nature-rich—we have to reverse those declines—and lead the way. We hope that these policies will do that.

Amendment 230A agreed.

Amendment 231

Moved by

231: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“Sustainable drainageThe Secretary of State must make provision under section 49 of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 so as to bring Schedule 3 to that Act (sustainable drainage) into force in relation to England before the end of 31 December 2023, insofar as it is not already in force.”

My Lords, in moving this amendment I will speak to it and to other amendments in this group. At the outset, I would like to declare my interests on the register, and also that I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Water, and that I chaired a study into bioresources and was co-author, with Westminster Sustainable Business Forum, of Bricks and Water: Managing Flood Risk and Accelerating Adaptation in a Climate Emergency. Many of its recommendations lie behind these amendments.

I would like to speak to each of the amendments in turn. I thank my noble friend Lord Wigley for co-signing and supporting Amendment 231. This amendment, together with Amendments 232 and 245, are probably the key amendments in the group. I find it staggering that, whereas Wales implemented Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 as far back as January 2019, and in July published the first post-implementation review into Schedule 3, on SUDS, and how it had been implemented in Wales, we have still not implemented Schedule 3 in England. The reason why this amendment is required is that, since 2013, more than 10% of all new homes in England have consistently been built on land at risk of flooding, in particular flood zones 2 and 3.

I will quote briefly from page 47 of the revised National Planning Policy Framework, which was published this month. Paragraph 159 says:

“Inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from areas at highest risk (whether existing or future). Where development is necessary in such areas, the development should be made safe for its lifetime without increasing flood risk elsewhere”.

That simply does not go far enough. In essence, we have encapsulated in Amendment 232 a prohibition on building on residential flood plains. It is just not appropriate to continue to build on areas prone to flooding, displacing the water retained there into existing developments.

The reason why Amendment 231 is important is encapsulated by the work of CIWEM, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, which came out with a report earlier this year, the findings of which are that

“Surface water flood risk is commonly managed by small teams frustrated by unclear duties and remit, complicated funding processes, fragmented data and a lack of capacity and skills”.

CIWEM has asked that the Government

“show greater leadership on surface water management … ensure that sufficient funding is provided to surface water management schemes … clarify and consolidate surface water management regulations, standards and plans”

and

“improve approaches to the collection and sharing of data and development of asset registers”.

Those conclusions chime with many of the amendments and recommendations set out therein.

As far back as 2007, Sir Michael Pitt said that there should be an end to the automatic right to connect: that you cannot have developments which are in inappropriate places but also try to connect to inappropriate piping. That is why Amendment 245 is crucial. It calls on water undertakers—in effect, water companies—to become statutory consultees. I am mindful of what my noble friend Lord Howe said in summing up a previous debate about the number of statutory consultees to date, but I believe it is appropriate for water companies to become statutory consultees so that they will have the power in the same way as the Environment Agency, which can recommend against a particular development being built in an appropriate place to make sure that it connects only where the infrastructure is appropriate. It is not appropriate to connect new developments to antiquated pipes that simply cannot take them.

In fact, Amendment 245 would help the Government, who were criticised as recently as yesterday by the Office for Environmental Protection for falling short in their understanding of its review of sewage spills over recent years. As well as Defra, the OEP has criticised Ofwat and the Environment Agency. Amendment 245 would assist the Government by ensuring an end to an automatic right to connect, which was called for as far back as 2007, following the floods, by Sir Michael Pitt.

Sustainable drains are part of this. Any new development should be built only if there are sustainable drains. They could be natural or physical, but they should ensure that the water is kept out of the combined sewers at all costs. This has to be front ended. We have to stop building three, four or five-bedroom houses, which multiply by three, four or five the amount of wastewater—let us call it what it is: sewage—which so often spills into the combined sewers, causing a health hazard, or on to public highways. Let us note that no highway authority is contributing in any shape or form financially to keeping the water out of those combined sewers. That is why Amendment 231 is required.

Amendment 232 would ban residential building on flood plains for the reasons I rehearsed a moment ago. That is a key amendment, along with Amendments 231 and 235.

Amendment 236 contains a duty to make flooding data available. This was one of the conclusions reached by CIWEM, but it was also one of our conclusions in the Bricks & Water reports: that we need to ensure that flooding data is available and publicised to those who need it. That was the genesis of the amendment: in effect, that the Environment Agency should ensure that the flood map for planning should be expanded to include all current and future sources of flood risk, and assist with the application of the sequential test and site-specific risk assessment, which are referred to in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Again, Amendment 240 was a recommendation of the Bricks & Water reports looking at flood risks: that Part C of the building regulations should be strengthened to require all properties at high risk of flooding to include property flood resilience measures. These measures should be specified and installed in accordance with the CIRIA code of practice for property flood risk. Is it not just common sense to encourage individual home resilience to help individual home owners, but also for the greater good?

Amendment 237 again is a Bricks & Water recommendation:

“Given the limited uptake of property flood resilience measures and continued development within the floodplain, Government should either extend the Flood Re scheme to cover residential buildings constructed after 1st January 2009, or put in place an alternative scheme. This should be evaluated as part of the ongoing Blanc review into flood insurance”.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has lent her support to that amendment and I am grateful to her for that. It is important to remember that when Flood Re was created it was assumed that no new houses would be built on flood plains. As we know, since 2013, 10% of new homes continue to be built on flood plains.

Amendment 238 is a recommendation that it should be mandatory for all insurers to offer Build Back Better funding reinvestment costs of up to £100,000 over and above the work to repair damage caused by a flood.

I am delighted to support Amendment 240, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will speak to. It is important that we have those flood risk recommendations.

Amendment 241 states that all insurers should offer discounted premiums to customers who install property flood resilience measures in accordance with the CIRIA code of practice.

With those brief remarks, I believe that each and every one of the amendments in this group is extremely important. There is an urgency to SUDS being implemented by Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. It should be implemented this year rather than delayed to next year. There is an urgency to completely preventing future housebuilding on flood plains. It is vital that, as Amendment 245 sets out, water companies become statutory consultees so that, where there is no way of connecting a major housing development to existing infrastructure, the water companies should be allowed in the terms of the price review, which is every five years, to make the relevant investment they are required to make. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to speak very briefly on this matter. I welcome the amendment being proposed by the noble Baroness, and the comments that she has made. I have not been intervening very much on most of this Bill, particularly those parts, like most of these, that apply to England only. But of course, with regard to drainage, water flow and rivers, there are cross-border issues.

The noble Baroness kindly referred to some of the progress that we have made in Wales on some of this, which of course we welcome, but goodness knows there is much more that needs to be done in Wales as well as in England. In any work that is undertaken in England this way, the co-ordination between what happens in England and in Wales on these matters is of vital importance. Therefore, I believe that the noble Baroness has, in a number of these amendments, put her finger on matters that are important in Wales as well. We have to deal with certain aspects of those ourselves, but we also have to co-ordinate where that is appropriate.

My Lords, I stand to introduce my Amendment 240, and also to speak briefly in support of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

My Amendment 240 is on flood prevention, mitigation certification and accreditation schemes. The reason I have tabled this amendment is that it does concern me that, when we have areas that have suffered major flooding, with both residential and business properties damaged, often the incentives to “build back better”—to put in flood mitigation and systems such as, in a residential building, a different sort of kitchen, different flooring, flood doors and so on—have not always been the eventual outcome when repairs have been done. It is also about the actual standard when they are put in: what kind of standard are the building repairs, which are being paid for by insurance companies? Whenever there is a major flooding event, insurance companies have an enormous amount of work to do, and we should thank them for that. Most insurance companies work very hard to provide a good service. But we have to be careful to make sure that all the equipment and facilities that are available are of the right standard and that appropriate mitigation is being put in place, which is why I have brought my amendment forward.

On the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I just wanted to make a few comments. Her Amendment 231 is about sustainable water management and sustainable drainage; I know this is a topic that is very close to the noble Baroness’s heart, and I completely support her on what she is trying to achieve through this. We know that sustainable drainage systems—SUDS—can play a pivotal role in ensuring that new properties are built in a way that manages surface water flood risk at a local level. We also know that the Government have a really good policy on SUDS under the Flood and Water Management Act, which the noble Baroness referred to. I think the frustration is that we now need the Government urgently to implement this, so that we can benefit from the announcements. The Government announced in January that it was going to be mandatory in all new developments, so we need to crack on with the implementation of this. We would very much support the noble Baroness’s amendment on that.

On the noble Baroness’s Amendment 232, on basically not building any more on flood plains, we again strongly support the noble Baroness in her efforts to achieve this. We know that the insurance industry, through the ABI, has been calling for the Government to ensure that there is no inappropriate development on flood plains and flood risk areas, and also that we need a more transparent planning application system in regard to this. One of their asks is that the Government link future residential and commercial developments to the building regulations approved documents. Again, it will be interesting to hear the Minister’s thoughts on that.

This Bill is also reviewing the National Planning Policy Framework, so we think that brings forward an opportunity to really set how this should happen, to ensure that we do not get inappropriate building. I remember there was one case when there was a large flood—I live in an area that floods—and there was a new development called “Water Meadows”. After the flooding had gone away, it was called the “Meadows”. That was very disingenuous of developers, and I think we need to get to grips with this. If the noble Baroness wishes to put her Amendment 232 to a vote, we would be very happy to support it.

My Lords, the important amendments that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has tabled to the Bill demonstrate how wide-ranging the Bill is. These amendments themselves could benefit from an individual Bill, because they are so critical to the future both of development and of environment preservation in our country. To be able to spend only 30 to 40 minutes debating them is a great shame, because the noble Baroness raises very significant issues.

The reason that these issues are so important was not stated, but I will state it because it is fundamental. We know that climate change will inevitably lead to higher rainfall and, therefore, to higher potential flood risks. All water companies, I know, have to take that into account in their 25-year plans when developing their own infrastructure, to make sure that it is flood resilient. If they are doing that, then surely the Government and Parliament itself have a responsibility to help developers build in such a way that housing, in particular, is either not built on flood plains or is built to be totally resilient to increasing water levels and flood risk as a result of climate change.

The Environment Agency has a hierarchy of flood zones: 1, 2 and 3. Flood zone 3, the high-risk one, is separated into two parts: 3a and 3b. Flood zone 3b is what we would describe as a functional flood plain: where water goes when there is heavy rainfall. There should not be any development on flood zone 3b, and on 3a only after very clear advice that it should not be there during a planning application or consultation. That is the essence of Amendment 232, of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.

Too many homes are currently being built on areas at risk of flooding. The consequence is that in a few years’ time, as rainfall increases as a result of climate change, those same houses will be at greater risk of being flooded. That cannot be right; we ought to be dealing with that at the planning and construction stages.

Finally, the Government need to try to develop some joined-up thinking on development and flooding. The Environment Agency is clear on its zoning; local flood management groups are statutory consultees on planning applications and have to give clear advice. Yet, in the new version of the NPPF, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, that clarity and that robust advice are not there. In order to be transparent to developers and local people—or those who may buy houses built in flood risk areas—we ought to strengthen the government advice in the new NPPF document.

I obviously completely support Amendment 240 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. However, of all the amendments we have debated, it is Amendment 232 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—which would safeguard high-risk flood zones from development and people who may inadvertently purchase a house built in a high-risk flood zone—that would provide clarity. Let us get that clarity because although the Environment Agency and local flood management groups will be clear, the Government are not as clear. This amendment would give that clarity of purpose: do not build in flood zones 3a and 3b for domestic purposes. If the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, wishes to test the opinion of the House on this critical issue, we on these Benches will support her.

My Lords, I had not expected to speak but this interesting debate has raised a couple of questions which maybe the Minister or the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, may address, particularly concerning Amendment 232.

I note that I am a member of the Wetlands APPG, so wetlands and flood plains are very close to my heart. I am also a member of the Devon Housing Commission so the cost and availability of housing in rural areas is very close to my heart too. There is a conflict here and I wonder whether Amendment 232 would have too big an impact on the availability and affordability of housing in areas near these floodplains.

I wonder whether the Minister or the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, if she sums up, can assist me on that point. I also wonder, given that we have just discussed the biodiversity net gain principle, whether we can apply that principle to building housing on these sensitive areas, such that if flood plains are being used up to create residential housing in essential areas, we look to invest in creating further areas for flood relief and landscaping to offset and ameliorate the problems created by building in these important areas where housing is required because it tends to be accessible and somewhat more affordable.

My Lords, as we have heard, this group of amendments addresses a range of issues relating to water management and flood risk and I think it appropriate for me to begin by responding to Amendment 231, the first amendment in this group. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for this amendment because it gives me the opportunity to tell the House that following publication of the review for implementation of Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 earlier this year, the Government are actively working on how best to implement Schedule 3.

An ambitious timeline has been set to deliver this quickly and that is why we have already committed to implementation in 2024 following statutory consultation later this year. I am sure my noble friend will understand how essential it is that we allow sufficient time to engage with stakeholders to help shape the details of implementation. Schedule 3 provides for a public consultation which must take place on the national standards. We have also committed to consult on the impact assessment and will need stakeholder views to inform decisions on scope, threshold and process in order to draft the secondary legislation required to implement Schedule 3. I hope that reassures my noble friend regarding her Amendment 231 and that, on that basis, she will not feel the need to press it.

Amendments 232 and 237 in my noble friend’s name would prevent planning permission for residential development in functional flood plains and high-risk flood areas and create a new duty for the Secretary of State to make building regulations within six months for property flood resilience, mitigation and waste management in connection with flooding. I listened carefully to what my noble friend and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Hayman, had to say. Let me explain where the Government are on this. Planning policy directs development away from areas at the highest risk of flooding. Building regulations set drainage system requirements for individual buildings and the main sewerage system is governed by the sewerage undertaker for the area.

As I said, I listened carefully to the arguments put forward but contend that the Government have well-established means of making sure that new developments are not approved where there is an unacceptable flood risk. I would argue that the Environment Agency and local authorities are the right bodies to oversee the maintenance of existing flood mitigation measures and, for these reasons, in our view introducing new requirements into the building regulations is not necessary.

New housebuilding—I hope I can reassure the noble Earl, Lord Devon, on this—and most other forms of development should not be permitted in the functional flood plain where flood-water has to flow or be stored. But it is important that local councils follow the sequential risk-based policy in the framework, steering new development away from areas known to be at risk of flooding—now or in the future—wherever possible. However, sometimes it is necessary to consider development in such areas. Banning development entirely in flood risk areas would mean that land that could safely be built on could no longer provide the economic opportunities our coastal and riverside settlements depend on. That is why I say to the House that we should trust our local authorities to make sensible decisions about what development is appropriate in their area. Having said that, we will of course keep national planning policy on flood risk and coastal change under review, as noble Lords would expect.

Amendment 236 would place a duty on the Government and local authorities to make data about flood prevention and risk available for the purpose of assisting insurers and property owners. Data about flood prevention and risk, including for planning purposes, is already publicly available, provided primarily by local authorities and the Environment Agency. Creating new duties on government and local authorities to publish this data is therefore unnecessary. Insurers can already access information, and to require government or local authorities to facilitate their use of the information would create unnecessary burdens on our public services. Within both the Environment Agency and the insurance industry, the modelling of UK flood risk continues to improve, resulting in models and maps than can assess flood risk at more detailed geographical levels, taking into account all the drivers of risk.

Amendment 238 would require the Financial Conduct Authority to make rules requiring insurance companies to participate in the currently voluntary build back better scheme, which was launched by Flood Re in April 2022. Amendment 239 extends the flood reinsurance scheme to premises built since 2009 that have property flood resilience measures that meet minimum standards and buildings insurance for small and medium-sized enterprise premises.

The build back better scheme is still in its early days and has not yet been fully embedded or tested. This is therefore not the right time to consider making changes. Properties built since 2009 should be insurable at affordable prices because of the changes to planning policy in 2006. If Flood Re were applied to homes built after 2009, that would be inconsistent with current planning policy.

I am slightly concerned because the legal position is very clear: any new development built after 2009 on a flood plain, whether functional or not, simply does not qualify for insurance. That is the purpose of the amendment. Unfortunately, if a house purchaser does not require a mortgage, they will not realise that they are not covered by insurance until such time as they are flooded, hence the need for the amendment.

I am in some difficulty because the advice that I have received is different. I shall need to take advice and write to my noble friend on that point. I come back to what I said earlier: properties built since 2009 should be insurable at affordable prices because of the changes made to planning policy back in 2006. That is the position as we understand it.

With regard to small and medium-sized enterprise premises, Flood Re was designed to provide available and affordable insurance for households, but that does not include businesses. There is no evidence of a systematic problem for businesses at high flood risk accessing insurance.

Amendments 240 and 241 would require, first, the Government to establish a certification scheme for improvements to domestic and commercial properties in England made for flood prevention or flood mitigation purposes and, secondly, the Financial Conduct Authority to make rules requiring insurance companies to consider flood prevention or mitigation improvements that are either certified or planning permission requirements in setting insurance premiums.

We are committed to promoting the uptake of property flood resilience and are working closely with Flood Re, the property flood resilience round table and the insurance industry to determine how best to develop the mechanisms needed for insurers to take account of property flood resilience when setting premiums. Additionally, the industry is exploring how to improve standards and skills. For example, as part of the joint Defra and industry round table, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management is developing a certified competent PFR practitioner scheme to help grow the pool of trained professionals and improve the standards for the design, installation and maintenance of PFR projects.

Amendment 245 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh seeks to make water undertakers—that is, water and sewage companies—statutory consultees on planning applications for major development that is likely to affect water supply. I am grateful to my noble friend for this amendment. Like her, I appreciate the important role of water undertakers in maintaining public health and ensuring access to clean water for communities. This is why in the other place the Government committed to consult after Royal Assent on whether we should make water companies statutory consultees, how that would work in practice and any implications flowing from that. As the DLUHC Secretary of State can make changes to the list of statutory consultees through secondary legislation, we do not need to use the Bill to do that. With that in mind, I hope my noble friend will not feel the need to move her amendment when we reach it.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for supporting Amendment 231 and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Hayman of Ullock, for their support. I will not go through each and every amendment.

Amendment 245 is a direct consequence of the Pitt recommendation to end the automatic right to connect. We are placing the Government, the department, Ofwat and the Environment Agency, but in particular the water companies, in a difficult position by forcing them to connect when the pipes simply cannot take the sewage. It goes into the watercourses right at the beginning of the process, then into the rivers and to the coast, and we know that everyone gets upset about that.

To correct my noble friend, the ABI briefing for today’s debate says: “It is important to note that Flood Re does not provide cover for properties built after 1 January 2009. The 2009 exemption is an extension from previous amendments between the insurance industry and the UK Government, which jointly agreed to purposely exclude these properties from the scheme to ensure that inappropriate building in high flood risk areas was not incentivised”. That is why I shall be pressing Amendment 232 to a vote.

If my noble friend would be kind enough to give way, I will repeat that my advice is that properties built since 2009, as she said, are not eligible for Flood Re. However, they should be insurable via the commercial market.

Hand on heart, I do not know of any commercial insurance company—I know others are better versed on that, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—that would offer that.

I will respond briefly to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, which raise wider issues. I believe we are fixated on new build, which is forcing people to build on flood plains. One measure would be to remove VAT on the renovation of houses and put VAT on new build. But I believe it is the responsibility of local authorities to rule out building on flood plains where the direct consequence of that will force floodwater and displaced water into existing developments. I do not think the National Planning Policy Framework adequately addresses that. I will not go on any further, except to beg leave to withdraw Amendment 231.

Amendment 231 withdrawn.

Amendment 232

Moved by

232: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“Residential buildings on floodplains(1) Local planning authorities must not grant permission for residential properties to be built on functional floodplains or areas at high risk of flooding.(2) An area is a functional floodplain or at high risk of flooding for the purposes of subsection (1) if the Environment Agency assesses it as a Zone 3a or 3b flood zone.”

Amendment 233

Moved by

233: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“Developments affecting ancient woodlandWithin three months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must vary The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2021 so that it applies in relation to applications for planning permission for development affecting ancient woodland.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment requires the introduction of a consultation direction for developments affecting ancient woodlands.

My Lords, Amendment 233 is in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I thank them for their support. I declare my interest as chair of the Woodland Trust.

Noble Lords have heard me bang on interminably about this subject before but I shall briefly bang on about it again. It would require the Government to fulfil a promise they made nearly two years ago, during the passage of the Environment Act, to amend the consultation direction in planning law to require local planning authorities to notify the Secretary of State if a planning application would damage or destroy an ancient woodland.

Ancient woodlands are an important and irreplaceable gem. They are highly efficient in sequestering carbon and one of the richest habitats for biodiversity. Currently, there are more than 800 cases of ancient woodlands on the Woodland Trust’s register of woods under threat. It is noticeable that around 160 additional cases have come in during the last two years since the Environment Act promise was made. There has been no progress in implementing it. Those 160 or so cases need not have happened.

Ancient woodlands are irreplaceable because they have been formed over centuries into complex assemblages of species both above and below ground. They cannot be moved or recreated. If they are damaged, they are gone. We are down now to the last fragments of ancient woodland but they have no real protection in law. They are the cathedrals of biodiversity, with huge cultural and historical significance but none of the protections afforded to cathedrals or to any listed building.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to consider and take a view on any development that was going to damage or destroy ancient woodland. In my experience, the consultation direction also acts as a reminder to planning authorities and developers of the need at all costs to avoid developments that threaten ancient woodland.

It is very distressing to see cases where, on many occasions, good prior discussion on the location and design of developments would have avoided the need to damage ancient woodland at all. It is notable that even HS2, which holds the prize for the all-time number of ancient woodlands damaged, has managed, during the implementation phase, to reduce the level of damage and the number of sites impacted as a result of negotiations and discussions with the Government and the Woodland Trust. Regrettably, many are still being damaged, but it shows what is possible.

I know that the Government are keen to honour the commitment made during the passage of the Environment Act and to change the consultation direction absolutely along the lines of my amendment. The Minister and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, have given me a lot of time and some tremendous assurances about processes and timescales, but we have had assurances and flurries of activity during the past two years without progress being made. They fall back and get forgotten again. The process laid out by the Minister needs agreement between her department, Defra and a number of other agencies. I know it is an ignoble thought but this does rather leave quite a lot of room for delay and complication.

We now need a bit of legislative welly to guarantee progress. This amendment sets a deadline of three months after Royal Assent, which accords well with the indicative timescale offered by the Minister. I shall want to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise briefly to give my full support to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

I want to add one piece of information to the points made by the noble Baroness. This is now urgent. We need much better and tighter legislation in place to protect our ancient woodlands. Since the Environment Act 2021 was passed, 200 local planning use decisions have given the green light to damaging ancient woodlands. This represents about 0.2% of the remaining ancient woodland. If we carry on at this rate, it does not take much to work out how quickly we will lose the rest of this incredibly important ecosystem. We must give this important, urgent issue our full attention.

My Lords, I will be even briefer in full support of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I agree with everything that has been said. I will not rise to the bait at the mention of HS2; that is not going to happen. But we need legislation—we cannot afford to lose this incredible habitat.

My Lords, I very much hope that the Government will take this amendment seriously. I would like to see them accept it. I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that ancient woodland is irreplaceable. It just takes a very long time—a matter of centuries—to replace it. As part of our planning, when it comes to 30 by 30, where to put woodlands and the extremely important issue of connection, we ought to be saying that losing 0.2% of our ancient woodland every year is not good. We want to plan to add 0.5% a year to where we plant and how we connect. We should have a long-term strategy to make sure that, in 100 years, we have twice as much woodland as now; otherwise, we will continue to bite into it.

A planning permission is currently being sought in Kent. I can see the argument for it. We want a supply of ragstone. A lot of important buildings are built of ragstone. This may be entirely the right place from which to get it. An additional Thames crossing is in prospect. We may well need it. We know that there will be circumstances in which we want to tear down ancient woodland. You cannot just take the soil and stick it somewhere else in the hope that things will re-establish themselves. It needs much better, more careful and longer-term planning.

Ten thousand years ago, there was none of this stuff. It has moved and come since. All these plants and animals have moved here during this period. We should not think that we cannot multiply it. We should be planning on the basis that we can, which needs a lot of thought, care and consideration. I declare an interest. I own a PAWS—a plantation on an ancient woodland site. I do not have any ancient woodland but I own a space where one used to be. We should give it careful attention, ensuring that every time we damage a woodland, there is proper consultation and consideration. It should not just be about whether we should lose this bit but about how we, as a local authority, plan to end up with more in a century’s time, rather than saying, “Shall we eat this slice of an ever-diminishing cake now?”.

My Lords, I ought to start by saying that I am a member of the Woodland Trust and therefore protection of woodland is very important to me, so I wholly support the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, in her amendment.

Ancient woodland is ancient. The definition of ancient woodland is that it has been around since the 1600s or even longer. The combined effect of a copse or even a small woodland area in biodiversity terms is enormous. The Woodland Trust and others define these areas as being our equivalent of the rainforests in the tropics in the extent of the diversity of nature that is encouraged to live among the trees. So, it is not simply a question of cutting down a tree; it is destroying a habitat. I think that is what we ought to be thinking of and it is exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, thought about.

Some of these ancient woodland areas are homes to threatened or at-risk species, so again it is not just about, “Let’s cut down the old oak tree”; it is about protecting a whole habitat for a huge number of species. The National Planning Policy Framework, which was published last week, has a tiny paragraph saying that

“development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats … such as ancient woodland … should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists”.

If only it had ended at “should be refused”. Because if we are, as a country, intent on protecting and enhancing our environment, those bodies of ancient woodland are exactly the sites that we should be protecting in full. What the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is asking, which we on these Benches wholly support, is that we strengthen that protection of ancient woodland, which is a key element of any Government’s environmental protection. So, I thank the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment and if she presses it to a vote, as she has indicated, we will be with her.

My Lords, I shall be brief, because my noble friend Lady Young has set out extremely clearly why her amendment is so important, as have other noble Lords who have spoken. Part of the problem is that we have never really properly appreciated the huge contribution that ancient woodland makes. We have talked about it, but have we actually properly acted on it to protect it in the way that is needed? We know the huge contribution it makes to our environment, through carbon capture for example, but also, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, it takes absolutely centuries to replace once it has gone.

There is so much talk about offsetting on the environment, but offsetting cannot always provide what is lost. We just need to consider that more. Offsetting is not the easy way to manage these things every time, so we completely support what my noble friend is trying to achieve. To be honest, she is the expert on this and if she is concerned, we should all be concerned, so if she wishes to test the opinion of the House, she will have our strong support.

My Lords, I declare my farming and land management interests in Wales, as set out in the register.

Amendment 233, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, is substantially the same as the amendment put forward in Committee. I pay tribute to her for her tireless campaigning on the importance of ancient woodlands, as well as to the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, for her insight in this debate. While we resisted this amendment in Committee, I am now persuaded that we can and should make a change of direction to capture this proposal in advance of a wider review later. I know that my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook has written to the noble Baroness to that effect already.

The intent behind this amendment, and indeed our public commitment to amend the consultation, is already being progressed. Officials from DLUHC and Defra are working with the Woodland Trust, the Forestry Commission and Natural England to develop a suitable amendment to the direction. The ultimate aim is to seek a common position on the meaning of “affecting ancient woodland”, a definition which considers the number of likely referrals to the Secretary of State, alongside how effective they would be at capturing the main points of concern. No legislative or parliamentary processes are required to issue the amendment to the consultation direction. I am therefore confident that an amended direction will be in place by the end of this year.

In addition to progressing the changes to the consultation direction, officials in DLUHC and Defra are delivering on further commitments made regarding ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees during the passage of the Environment Act. A review of how national planning policy on ancient woodland is being implemented in practice is under way. The aim of the review is to give us a better idea of whether further protections are needed to ensure that these irreplaceable habitats have appropriate protection within the planning system. The findings of this analysis will feed into our wider review of the National Planning Policy Framework, which will be subject to a public consultation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned the losses of and impact on ancient woodlands from HS2. The Government and HS2 Ltd recognise that ancient woodland is an irreplaceable habitat, and the design of the railway has sought to avoid its loss wherever possible. Defra, the Forestry Commission and Natural England have worked with the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd to ensure that route design and delivery plans minimise any loss of ancient woodlands and veteran trees.

Where effects on ancient woodland cannot be reasonably avoided through design, HS2 Ltd has committed to providing a range of bespoke compensation services for each woodland affected, in line with advice provided by Natural England and the Forestry Commission. HS2 Ltd is working with the Forestry Commission to deliver an additional £5 million HS2 woodland fund on phase 1 and £2 million on phase 2a. This will result in hundreds of additional hectares of woodland creation, in addition to the core compensation planting delivered by HS2 Ltd itself.

Since May 2023, the woodland creation aspect of the fund is now available under the England woodland creation offer, while the restoration of plantations of ancient woodland sites—PAWS—will continue to be administered under the HS2 woodland fund. As of November 2022, the phase 1 HS2 woodland fund has completed 34 projects, which has resulted in 123.6 hectares of new woodland creation and 71.9 hectares of schemes to restore native woodland on plantations on ancient woodland sites.

Where loss of woodland is unavoidable, there is a range of measures, including the translocation of ancient woodland soils and features, salvaging ancient woodland soils and seed banks that would otherwise be lost and translocating those to enhance new woodland planting sites and support the restoration of degraded ancient woodland sites. All the measures, whether they be the creation of a new habitat area or the enhancement of existing habitats, will be supported by long-term management plans and agreements with landowners or third parties where relevant. HS2 Ltd publishes an annual Ancient Woodland Summary Report, providing updates on how the scheme is impacting ancient woodlands and the progress that is being made on delivering the range of compensation measures that have been committed to.

Further to this, in 2021 the Government published the updated keepers of time policy on ancient and native woodland and ancient and veteran trees in England. The statement updates the Government’s policy to recognise the values of these habitats and our objectives to protect and improve them for future generations.

My noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, spoke about the need for long-term strategies to protect ancient woodland sites. Since the keepers of time policy was first published in 2005, more than 27,000 hectares of plantations on ancient woodland sites in England have been brought into restoration since 2010. However, the Government are going further and in 2021 they published the updated keepers of time policy on ancient woodland. Managing Ancient and Native Woodlands in England was released in 2010, which provides guidance to help land managers to make appropriate management decisions. The Forestry Commission is working with the Sylva Foundation and partners to make assessment of woodland ecological conditions simpler for users through the development of an app, which will allow us to gather data on the condition of our ancient and native woodlands and monitor progress against our ambitions. In addition to the NPPF review, two additional research projects are under way to understand the impact of development on woodland, through the nature for climate fund and a forest research project.

I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Baroness and the House that we are doing all that we can to protect these vital ecological infrastructures and that she will be content not to press her amendment.

My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in support of my amendment as well as those who are silently cheering me on but not speaking, as we are all keen to get on to the debate on nutrient neutrality. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, for his account of the range of measures that the Government are taking to improve ancient woodland and his commitment—rather surprising, but I was very pleased—to progress on the other commitments that were made on ancient woodlands during the passage of the Environment Act. I have not started campaigning on those yet, but I am grateful for the invitation to do so.

It comes down to the fact that promises are made and sincerely committed to, but there is many a slip ’twixt cup and lip. To be honest, unless we get a clear legislative date for this change to the consultation direction into statute, there is always a risk that it will dribble away—we will have a spring election, everybody who knew anything about it will have disappeared and we will be back to square one. Despite all the assurances all the way through this process from the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, which I very much welcome, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Amendment 234 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 235

Moved by

235: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“Planning application fees(1) Section 303 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (fees for planning applications etc.) is amended as follows.(2) After subsection (4) insert—“(4A) A local planning authority may make provision as to how a fee or charge under this section is to be calculated (including who is to make the calculation).””Member's explanatory statement

This new Clause would allow local authorities to set the fees for planning applications, in order that the cost of determining an application is reflected by the fee charged.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who is not in his place, for the long and careful response he gave to the amendment on planning fees, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and me. It is a practical amendment to ensure that council tax payers are not required to subsidise applications from developers, and to provide an effective and efficient planning service. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the response from the noble Earl, so I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Amendments 236 to 241 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 3.45 pm.

Sitting suspended.

Horizon Europe

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the United Kingdom to join Horizon Europe.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I hope that the House will understand how pleased I am that I will not have to ask it again.

My Lords, on 7 September, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would associate to Horizon Europe. The Government have negotiated a bespoke deal in the UK’s national interest, and UK researchers and businesses can participate confidently in the world’s largest programme of research co-operation, worth more than £80 billion. UK applicants are eligible to apply to Horizon Europe calls, now and in the future, and the Government strongly encourage them to do so.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and I welcome the decision. However, I hope the House will understand that great damage has been caused by the delay, and that this is not an automatic thing that you can restart, like pressing on a light switch. One of the things we must turn our attention to now to make Horizon Europe work properly is the visa system. The global talent visa system for STEM subjects needs reform. If we are to encourage the best and the brightest to come and do their research in Britain, would the Minister agree that tackling the visa system is an important priority for the Government now? Would he also agree that, if we are to be a science superpower, we really must tackle the visa problem and fix it to make it more easily possible for these researchers to come and do their work in Britain to the benefit of the UK?

I thank the noble Viscount for his question and pay tribute to his ongoing championship of our reassociation to the programme. I certainly agree on the importance of bringing in overseas talent via the visa system for this. We have roughly 1 million people today in this country working in R&D roles. We feel that, by 2027, due to retirement and bringing new researchers in, that number will have to increase by around 380,000, and overseas talent will be a very big piece of that. I am pleased to say that our very welcoming points-based visa immigration system is seeing quite strong increases in numbers. The skills-based visa system has seen increases of roughly 50% when compared to years before the pandemic.

My Lords, I am pleased that we now have a settlement with Horizon Europe, and all the science institutions are very pleased with this news. It will allow us now to form collaborations with scientists in Europe and other parts of the world, which is an important part of research. We will also now be part of Copernicus, which drives research into space and satellite programmes, and that is also good news. The downside is that we will not be part of Euratom, because that is what the Government have decided. That is for nuclear research, which means that we will not be joining any nuclear research in Europe, where they are establishing the first trial fusion reactor in France. I hope that the new money that the Government will put forward instead of Euratom will be for nuclear research and will not be used for things such as manufacturing radioisotopes, which we have been short of since we came out of Europe—and we do need more of them. Can the Minister confirm when the Government will publish the forward plans for a replacement of Euratom and that the money will be for research?

I thank the noble Lord for his remarks overall concerning the Horizon programme. The reason the Government chose not to join Euratom and did not include it in our overall deal here was that the fusion nuclear sector very strongly advised us not to do so. That frees up approximately £650 million, which will be distributed in ways to be announced. I am afraid I do not have a date for that—these events have been very recent—but it will be announced as soon as practicably possible.

My Lords, let me first draw attention to my entry in the register of interests and congratulate the Government on a very effective way of putting ourselves back in play here. I also congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, on his tenacity. How does this fit with the AUKUS initiative on innovation and technology?

I thank my noble friend for his comments but his specific question with respect to AUKUS has rather stumped me, so I will have to write to him.

My Lords, the figures on those attracted by the global talent visa and others came before the latest announcement about the increases in visa charges and health charges. I emphasise that these are upfront charges, so if you are coming here for five years, you are paying £20,000 to £25,000 before you have started—unless your university repays it, in which case the university has extra costs. Those charges were imposed to support a public sector pay increase, thus contradicting the aim to be a science superpower. Can the Government please get their act together? We know that we need a large number of foreign researchers, and we want to make Britain a welcoming place for foreign researchers. This is doing the opposite. Will the Government not reverse the recent increase?

The Home Office recently announced increases to both the visa fees and the health surcharge fees, with the purpose of ensuring that the costs of our borders and migration system are borne by those who benefit most from that system. The timing of the increase of the costs has yet to be announced, although the announcement itself was made, and we will of course be keeping a close eye on its overall effects.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Stansgate for his persistence on this. I was grateful for the Minister’s contributions in the Chamber last week on the subject of reinstating the Horizon programme—a very welcome announcement. Given his commitment to try to find out how much the substitute Pioneer programme had cost, including staff costs, what steps has he put in place to identify those costs and when does he expect to be able to share the information with the House?

I said at the time that I would ask for those costs to be analysed, and that is in train. When that will be shared, I do not know, but I invite the noble Baroness to consider that the costs of non-association to Horizon for us were those of uncertainty. How much greater would that uncertainty, and therefore the cost, have been had we not had a plan B in the form of Pioneer? Proceeding without Pioneer would have been reckless in the extreme. Whatever costs were incurred—and I will, as I promised, do my best to find out what they were—pale in comparison with what the costs of not doing it would have been.

At this time, the Government are not re-associating with Erasmus, instead relying on their innovative Turing programme.

My Lords, as someone who has previously benefited from research support from Horizon, I join others in warmly welcoming this. Does the Minister agree that Horizon has been extremely important not only in strengthening research capability between the UK and continental Europe, and between the East and West, but between the north and south—Europe and the global South—which is hugely important strategically in areas such as health security, biosecurity, pandemic preparedness and climate change?

I am very happy to agree. The work done collectively across all programmes in the last Horizon cut across 163 countries and created 237,000 collaborative links—although quite what that means I am not sure. To me, it paints a picture of a global, highly collaborative, shared investigative approach to probing the great scientific problems of our time.

My Lords, there is clearly overwhelming relief from the academic community that we have at last rejoined, although I echo my noble friend’s point that there is a lot of ground to make up and a lot of good will and partnerships to be rebuilt. I will ask some practical questions of the Minister. What happens to researchers who have already been funded through the guarantee? Can they be transferred back into Horizon? What will happen to the underspend created by UKRI’s guarantee? Will it be reinvested in UK R&D before association takes place?

I thank the noble Baroness for the question. Any open calls now are for programme 24 or are outstanding for programme 23. Those calls will be dedicated to each programme. Those for programme 23—there are not very many left—are covered by the Horizon guarantee scheme or programme 24, in which we now participate. All of the underspend will go to our commitment to spend £20 billion a year on R&D by 2024-25, and exactly how we take full advantage of that will be the subject of future announcements.

Deep Seabed Mining

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impacts of deep seabed mining on (1) ocean health, and (2) the wider environment; and what discussions they have had with (a) the International Seabed Authority, and (b) its member nations, on permitting deep seabed mining.

My Lords, we recognise the growing pressure to extract deep sea resources and are deeply concerned about the potential impacts of mining activities on the fragile marine environment. Informed by evidence, we will continue to listen to and contribute to discussions on deep seabed mining, including those at the International Seabed Authority, pressing for the highest environmental standards in relation to existing exploration activity and potential future commercial exploitation, should that be approved by the ISA.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his first foray into Question Time in the House of Lords. The main thing about the deep seabed is what we do not know—there are an awful lot of unknown unknowns. But we know the result of the deep sea mining evidence review, which his Government commissioned:

“Mining in the deep sea will cause adverse impacts to the environment”.

While we wait to see what this will mean for what we do know, we do not want another environmental disaster, as we have had from the consequences of oil, for instance. Will the Government announce a pause or moratorium on all this deep sea mining?

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for her question. The UK recognises the growing pressure to extract deep sea resources. The UK’s policy is not to sponsor or support the issuing of any exploration licences for deep sea mining projects unless and until there is sufficient scientific evidence about its potential impact on deep sea ecosystems and strong, enforceable environmental regulations, standards and guidelines have been developed by the ISA and are in place. The UK’s approach is precautionary and conditional, and it is correct. The Government will continue to play an active role in the ISA and make sure that we listen to the evidence.

My noble friend will be aware that, in the winter months, seahorses can go 200 feet deeper towards the seabed and that deep sea mining has the potential to have a very serious negative effect on their habitat—the mining, the chemicals and the noise—and displace them. A more immediate threat to seahorses globally is the continuing pernicious trade in them. Will he join me and the Seahorse Trust, of which I am a patron, in trying to stamp out the illegal trade of seahorses on Meta once and for all?

I thank my noble friend for his question. I am very happy to offer him my full support on this issue. I will clearly have to take that back to the department to find what the position is, but it certainly makes perfect sense to me. I completely support him in the incredibly important work that he is doing.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his first Oral Questions. In the Government’s strategy on critical minerals, which are key for global supply chains and our own supply chains, they stressed the circular economy—recycling and getting critical minerals from resources that we already have. Will he confirm that that is a priority well before we do deep sea mining? One way of doing that is to make sure that we have standardisation on things such as batteries, so that they can be disassembled and their materials can be used again efficiently and quickly.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his opening comments. The simple answer is that we need to continue to investigate all possibilities. The point that he has made is incredibly important and we need to continue that investigation. Regarding deep sea mining, it is important that we continue to develop a future society based on renewable energy and technology. It will be critical to find sources of reliable, clean and ethically sourced mineral resources, which is why we will continue to work very closely with the ISA. To his very important point, we will certainly make sure that we are using all the resources that we have and that we are not damaging the planet.

My Lords, in response to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, the Minister referred to the Government wanting sufficient evidence about the potential impact of deep sea mining projects on the deep sea ecosystem. Can he assure the House that that means the Government will not approve any exploitation licences for deep sea mining projects unless the Government are clear that there will be no impact on the deep sea ecosystems?

My Lords, I too welcome the Minister today, although we have done debates in Grand Committee. What sort of impact will the beyond national jurisdiction treaty that has been agreed have on our position in the International Seabed Authority’s discussions on future licences? The sea is often open territory, not governed by Governments and countries. It is really important that we have international co-operation on this issue.

I thank the noble Lord for his opening comments. It is important, as he says, for us to make sure that we are working globally on this subject. As a responsible international actor and party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UK will continue to engage fully with negotiations under way at the International Seabed Authority and we will work closely with partners who are committed to ensuring a regulatory framework with the highest level of environmental protection by 2025.

My Lords, I too welcome the noble Lord to his first Oral Questions. He is doing quite well at the moment, so well done.

I hope that did not sound too patronising. Are the Government doing any independent research of their own or encouraging universities to do the sort of research that we need? As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, it is the unknown unknowns that are a real concern.

I thank the noble Baroness for her comments; I am very pleased with her scorecard halfway through. The Government are very much committed to research. That is not only through the ISA, although we are a very active partner there; we have a UK-based scientist at the heart of that research programme. It is hugely important that we focus everything in terms of the ISA, which is very much focused on exploration at the moment. Clearly, the Government will not move until we get those international agreements in place.

My Lords, there is huge opposition to deep sea mining from scientists, relevant experts, world-leading businesses and financial institutions representing over €3.3 trillion in combined assets—and, added to that, 73% of the UK public, as reported recently by ICM Unlimited. Will the Government join France, Germany, Canada and other states in calling for a moratorium on deep sea mining? Let us face it: no amount of regulation will stop the churn of the seabed and the disturbance of currently safely sequestered carbon sediments.

I know the noble Baroness takes an incredibly active interest in this subject, having asked a similar question not too long ago. At the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the UK abstained from voting on the motion for a moratorium on deep sea mining simply because it did not fully align with UK policy. However, no deep sea mining is currently happening in areas beyond national jurisdictions. There are no exploration licences for deep sea mining and no exploitation regulations have yet been agreed.

Does my noble friend accept that what he has said will cover all the overseas territories? The confetti of empire, so to speak, gives us considerable control over a great deal of the seabed, but these territories must be entirely part of this programme.

I thank my noble friend for his question. I know he has an incredibly keen interest in this subject. The answer to that question is yes, of course. We need to make sure that all those territories are involved in this.

My Lords, while we are on the matter of the seabed, a related factor, very deep sea net fishing, is extremely damaging to the ocean bottom, releasing enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Do the Government have a position on this? What can they do to discourage this very damaging form of fishing?

I thank the noble Lord for his question, but I simply do not know the answer. I will take that back to the department and be in touch.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises: Interest Rates

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support small and medium-sized enterprises in raising finance in a period of high interest rates.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my register of interest, in particular as senior partner of Cavendish Corporate Finance.

We work closely with the British Business Bank to support SMEs through targeted market interventions. That includes improving the terms on offer to SME borrowers through the recovery loan scheme, providing businesses with up to £2 million of guaranteed government finance. We are also boosting availability of non-debt finance by extending British Patient Capital to 2033 and funding the Regional Angels Programme with an additional £150 million over the spending review period.

Given the economic growth that we now know has now happened since Covid, growing SMEs need equity finance to expand their businesses. Now that the Windsor Framework has been signed and the EU state subsidy restrictions withdrawn from our own state aid, will the EIS and SEIS be amended to take away restrictions such as gross assets and seven-year trading? In particular, will the sunset clause be removed?

I entirely agree with my noble friend about the very good news about the economy. The EIS and SEIS schemes, along with VCT, have been enormously popular and successful, with over £40 billion being invested since their inception in 1994. We are assured by the Chancellor that the Government are committed to their renewal. We absolutely recognise the need for investors and companies, so that investment continues without interruption going forward. My noble friend will understand that I cannot give exact timings today, but the details will be provided by His Majesty’s Treasury ahead of the renewal date. On the European clauses, I ask your Lordships to understand that the Chancellor will have in mind that any renewal is for UK business only and no longer for the wider European audience.

My Lords, on 17 July the Financial Times reported that the Prime Minister was convening a new business advisory council, bringing together senior bosses to shape government policy. The paper lists

“AstraZeneca, NatWest, BAE Systems, SSE, Google DeepMind, J Sainsbury, Vodafone, GSK, Aviva, Shell, Sage, Taylor Wimpey, Diageo and Barclays”.

That does not leave much room for the SMEs to get their message across, but it does typify the big business approach taken by this Government. Will the Minister confirm who is on this council, whether it has met yet, and how he expects small and medium-sized businesses to be able to catch the Prime Minister’s ear in such company?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. Those are some of the largest international companies in the world, and I am sure that they will provide the Prime Minister with some extremely helpful advice. Having said that, as we all know, in this country the vast majority of businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises. In my role, I communicate with them almost constantly, both individuals and representative bodies. The value they have to add to these sorts of fora should not be underestimated. They are an extremely valuable and successful part of our economy.

My Lords, there is evidence to show that the closure of bank branches leads to lower financial support for local businesses, especially as it also leads to the loss of local economic intelligence networks. What have the Government done to estimate the negative effects of bank branch closures on financial support available for SMEs?

My Lords, it is an extremely good point. If one goes back to before the financial crisis in 2008, when the big five really dominated, there has been nothing short of a revolution in business lending since then. In fact, last year some 55% of all SME borrowing came from challenger banks—at-base banks and specialist SME banks such as OakNorth and Hampshire Trust Bank. The whole structure has changed in the last few years, and my guess is that some of the more traditional banks are feeling the pain in this area.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the UK hovercraft industry is experiencing serious difficulties in obtaining performance bonds to cover stage payments in the construction of a hovercraft? If the answer is not in my noble friend’s brief, can he write to me?

I was not aware that there was this trouble in the hovercraft industry. My guess is that it is something to do with the balance sheet, but I will certainly write to him and we will follow that one up.

My Lords, the Government hold approximately 39% of share capital in NatWest and therefore are in a very powerful position to influence the bank’s policy and to provide small and medium companies with low-interest financial support. They could even turn NatWest into a specialist support hub. Have the Government presented any specific proposals to NatWest in this regard?

I am not aware that we have made any specific proposal with NatWest but, through the British Business Bank, with a base rate of 5.25%, SMEs can borrow at 6%. They will find it very hard to match that anywhere in the market.

My Lords, community development financial institutions lent over £80 million last year to in excess of 3,000 small businesses, 90% of which had been turned down by a conventional lender. Will the Government finally grasp the nettle and incentivise the major commercial lenders to invest in CDFIs in order to provide lending to those small businesses that do not fit the portfolio of commercial banks, as they do in the United States?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point. CDFIs have been extremely successful and, if one looks at the plethora of lending opportunities right now, it continues to broaden because of the new entrants into the market. We will certainly take it up with the major banks and see where we get.

My Lords, SMEs are now looking to move from survival to growth as they recover from the impact of the pandemic. However, many SMEs that relied on government-back pandemic loans are finding the cost of borrowing far higher now. What can the Minister offer the millions of SME owners and employees whose prospects are hampered by the 15-year peak in interest rates?

The interest rate is a Bank of England matter. The reason why it has gone up, as we all know, is to battle inflation, which is incredibly important. Having said that, in business, financial rigour and accountability are paramount in managing a business, particularly through a growth phase. We saw insolvencies fall to quite a low level during the pandemic because of the Government’s support, and the noble Lord is right that we are starting to see the number creep up again. The Government will do all we can in providing both advice and teams to help businesses in trouble but, when it comes down to it, it depends very much on the financial viability of the business going forward.

My Lords, I speak frequently with small and medium-sized businesses, and I refer to my interests in the register. Can my noble friend say what the Government are doing to publicise the availability of help for the SME community?

I thank my noble friend for his question. The Government want the UK to be the best place to start and grow a business and to support new entrepreneurs, regardless of their background. That is definitive. In the DBT, we have officials throughout the country who run workshops and who help and advise wherever they can. The British Business Bank reaches out wherever it possibly can to help and support SMEs. Indeed, in the other place, we have an SME Minister who, with his team, is extremely active in engaging the sector.

Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete: Hospitals

Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support NHS trusts with the cost of ensuring hospital sites are safe until reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete can be removed.

The NHS has had a mitigation plan in place since 2021 for hospital buildings with confirmed RAAC. That is backed by significant additional funding of £698 million for trusts to put in place necessary remediation and fail-safe measures. Additionally, in May, we announced that the seven most affected NHS hospitals will be replaced by 2030 through the new hospital programme.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. The NHS Confederation and NHS Providers both point out that they welcome the new hospital programme. However, the issue with RAAC is part of a much bigger maintenance backlog. Some hospitals that are not the most critical will have to wait up to 12 years for the concrete to be removed. Given that timeline and the risk highlighted in recent days, will the Government consider accelerating the new hospital programme?

First, we are doing everything we possibly can to make sure that the programme is accelerated as quickly as possible for good-safety reasons and for clinical reasons as well. In terms of the other hospitals, it is a case of making sure every step of the way that we have structural engineers and we take every safety measure. I managed to visit a lot of these hospitals over the summer and saw first hand the expert work they are doing there.

My Lords, to give credit where it is due, the DHSC has produced a very good fact sheet on RAAC in the NHS. I draw the Minister’s attention to the last line of it—the place where the bad news is usually buried. It says:

“Privately owned primary care estate is not part of the national programme. NHSE has issued RAAC guidance to private landlords who hold the responsibility for surveying and maintaining their own property”.

That reads a bit like “not our problem”. Can the Minister assure the House that the department will ensure that those smaller primary care settings get surveys done quickly? How will the department be staying on top of that?

We have given guidance and are making sure that everyone understands exactly what they should be doing across the estate, whether we are the landlord or not. Clearly, there is a difference where we are the landlord because then it is our responsibility to do it. The prime example of this is that in the NHS Property Services GP estate—which is quite extensive—we are dealing with three RAAC GP surgeries. Where they are owned by other landlords, we need to make sure that they are on top of it and do the work without taking responsibility for it ourselves.

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned 40 new hospitals by 2030, but he will be aware of the NAO report in July which made it clear that the original 40 target will not be met because of the substitution of the eight RAAC hospitals. Can the Minister tell us what is going to happen to the eight hospitals that were in the original programme and have now been delayed?

I hope and trust that most of us would think that it was sensible to prioritise the RAAC hospitals. That meant that we had to move some others to the right-hand side of the budget envelope, so to speak. It is not publicised very much, but we now have an agreement with the Treasury to move to five-year capital cycles, like the Department for Transport, which I think is a real positive because we need long-term planning cycles. We are busy developing a 2030-35 programme now, which those hospitals that the noble Lord mentioned will be placed in.

My Lords, I want to follow on from the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. My local hospital, Watford General Hospital, has been top of the rebuild list for 20 years. The town was delighted with the news on 23 May that it would be part of that group and is not part of the eight. Last week, the council was informed that there is still no confirmation of when funding will be approved by the Treasury. The town knows that it will run out of the chance to rebuild Watford General by 2030 unless that funding is confirmed very soon. Can the Minister say when it will be confirmed?

In every hospital—and Watford was one of the first ones I visited—there is a programme on which the draw-down of the funding depends; there is already a new car park there, for instance. I can assure the noble Baroness that the plans are in place to make sure that the draw-down is in time. I have also said on all the hospitals I have visited over the summer—I have seen about 20 or so—that I have a quarterback role where I have to project manage across them all and, where there are issues, they can approach me directly. I will raise today’s question with the Treasury and make sure that Watford is well in order.

My Lords, as the Minister said in answer to an earlier question, the Government will replace only seven of the 27 NHS sites confirmed to have RAAC in their construction, while the other 20 are set to be monitored and mitigated until it can be removed. How long will it take to complete the removal on these 20 sites? What assessment has been made of the risk to patients?

Three of those have already had the RAAC eliminated from them. The remaining ones are part of the programme and the commitment to have their RAAC eradicated by 2035, but in the meantime the remedial measures are there and that is what the £698 million is all about. I visited them first hand to see the work, and all credit to the team—they have become real experts on the subject. At every hospital I visited, you could see that the team were right on their game and understood very well what work they needed to do there, always using expert advice from the Institution of Structural Engineers and others.

My Lords, do the details that my noble friend gave in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, represent the current position in implementing the clear commitments given by Mr Johnson in the 2019 manifesto, which I do not think have advanced quite as swiftly as had been hoped?

The commitment to 40 hospitals is absolutely there, but, as noble Lords have mentioned, we have prioritised the seven RAAC ones—in fact five of those were new, while two were already in the programme—which clearly have to be done by 2030. So, just as we moved those in, we moved the others into the cycle of 2030-35, but we will still be delivering 40 hospitals by 2030, albeit, because of the RAAC hospitals, of a slightly different complexion.

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure (Security Requirements for Relevant Connectable Products) Regulations 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 10 July be approved.

Relevant document: 48th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 7 September.

Motion agreed.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Report (7th Day) (Continued)

Amendment 242

Moved by

242: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“British standards: publicationWhere legislation made under the Planning Acts, or a local authority planning policy, refers to a British standard, the Secretary of State or local authority must take such steps as are necessary to make the relevant standard publicly available online free of charge.”

My Lords, for the second time today, I shall speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Northbrook, who cannot be in his place.

Amendment 242 seeks to make access to planning-related British standards available to everyone free online. Should every citizen not have a right to see relevant British standards free of charge? The cost of gaining access to them at the moment is not exactly modest. A few days ago, an inquiry was made about buying BS5228, which relates to noise and disturbance from construction sites, from the BSI website. The charge for part 1 was £298 and for part 2 was £356—a grand total of £654, which is no mean sum.

What is needed, I suggest on behalf of my noble friend, is an instruction to the British Standards Institution, which publishes the standards online or grants online access to them via public libraries. In Committee the Minister insisted that, as his colleague in another place wrote,

“The BSI are an independent organisation and we therefore cannot compel them to publish some, or indeed any, of their standards without charge”.

May I press my noble friend a little on this? Surely there must be numerous independent organisations referred to in statute whose publications are made available without charge on the internet. For example, air source heat pumps are legally required to comply with MCS planning standards or equivalent standards. The relevant microgeneration installation standard MCS 020 is the property of the MCS charitable foundation and is published on the internet for anyone to read without charge. Why cannot BSI do the same? The principle is clear; British citizens should not have to pay to find out about legal obligations with which they have to comply.

My noble friend objected in Committee, saying that the amendment would destroy the funding integrity of the British Standards Institution. However, since Committee, it has emerged that Libraries NI, the largest single library authority in our country, has introduced free online access to a full database of more than 100,000 British, European and international standards. This amendment is infinitely more modest. It seeks free online access only to British standards related to planning, which must represent a small minority of the total made available in Northern Ireland. So, the question arises: if what this amendment seeks has already been accepted in Northern Ireland, why not in the rest of our country? I am all in favour of every opportunity to bring Great Britain into line with the many good things that have been found in Northern Ireland. The Government claim to be keen to promote digital accessibility. Here is an opportunity for them to do so. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak after my noble friend Lord Lexden. In this case, I am going to speak about a slightly different subject, although he made his own case very well. I will speak principally to Amendment 282N, in my name, but associated with it are Amendments 302A, 315ZA and 317, as consequential and related amendments. They have been referred to as my ULEZ amendments, but I am not really going to speak about the merits or demerits of ULEZ. Instead, I will talk about the knotty issue of relations between the elected Mayor of London and the elected borough councils and how they work together to make the capital a success. There has always been the potential for this to go wrong.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I remind them of my experience. I was the deputy leader of a London borough when Ken Livingstone was mayor. I chaired for two years during that period London Councils’ transport and environment committee, a statutory committee representing all London boroughs and the Corporation of the City of London, irrespective of party, in their relations with the mayor and Transport for London. Then, a little like a poacher turning gamekeeper—or the other way around—I was a member of the board of Transport for London for eight years and deputy chairman of Transport for London for about half that time.

I have therefore seen those relations operating in practice over a lengthy period. It is fair to say that, under the independent and then Labour mayor Ken Livingstone, they were quite often rather scratchy. They improved considerably when Boris Johnson became mayor. I would like to think—if noble Lords would allow me to be a little boastful—that that was because of the number of people working with him who had experience of local government, such as myself, my noble friend Lady O’Neill of Bexley, who is sitting here, my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh, who is not in his place, and others. There was a much more collaborative relationship.

Under the current incumbent, that collaborative relationship has continued in many respects. This is to be welcomed. For example, the boroughs and the mayor have worked together closely on active travel programmes and various other matters. However, it is clear that, in the case of the extension of the London ultra low emission zone, they have collapsed. What we have are two levels of government, each convinced of their democratic authority, locking horns and threatening a sort of paralysis in transport policy. This could also extend to other areas.

What exists in other parts of the country? In London, the Greater London Authority Act 1999 gives powers in relation to road user charging to the mayor to act without being trammelled in any way by the views of the boroughs, beyond the consultation he is required to conduct with them. When we look to other parts of the country, we see that different legislation applies— Part III of the Transport Act 2000, for those who are interested. In the combined authority areas, these powers are held jointly by the combined authority and the relevant constituent authorities, acting as local traffic authorities. Decisions on road user charging in these areas typically require the majority or unanimous consent of members before any scheme can be established.

In the case of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the constitution is explicit in stating that questions relating to road user charging require all 11 members of the combined authority to be unanimously in favour for any vote to be carried. In the West Midlands Combined Authority, changes to transport matters require either a simple majority or a unanimous vote, depending on the question to be decided and on the members entitled to vote. In neither of these cases could road user charging be introduced without the collaboration and assent of the constituent authorities. It is rather different from London.

I instance these points to say that in this country we can embrace a different pattern of the distribution of power. The essence of my amendment is simply to try to extend, in a small way, some of the co-responsibility that exists in Manchester and Birmingham to the arrangements in London. It seeks to rebalance this by bringing the decision-making in London more into line with what exists in the rest of the country.

The amendment would give London borough councils a new power to opt out from—but not veto—certain road user charging schemes in future. First, it would be operative only where the principal purpose of a road user charging scheme applying in the council’s area is the improvement of air quality. Secondly, it would be available only to London borough councils which already meet air quality standards and objectives under the Environment Act 1995—I say in parenthesis that, currently, no London borough meets those standards—or have an approved plan to do so that is an alternative to the plan advanced by the mayor to be achieved through road user charging.

There is no free ticket here for London boroughs away from their responsibilities for air quality. Where the council can show to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that it has a plan which is likely to achieve and maintain improvements, the Secretary of State would be under a new duty to approve its alternative plan, thus making it eligible to opt out of certain TFL charging schemes.

The combined effect of these various conditions will be that there will be no impairment of the air-quality obligations falling on London boroughs, but there will be the opportunity to show that they can meet them in a way that is more acceptable to their local people, as they judge them on the basis of their democratic mandate. I think that would be a modest and sensible rebalancing of power. It is focused, it is proportionate, and it is good common sense.

I see that my noble friend the Minister has indicated her support for the amendment, and the associated other amendments, and I very much hope that they will find favour across your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, I support my noble friend’s Amendment 282N. In opening, I remind the House that I am the leader of the London Borough of Bexley and am therefore involved in both London Councils and the Local Government Association—although I have not quite made the dizzying heights of being a VP of the Local Government Association, like many Members of this Chamber.

It is important to point out at the outset that I firmly believe in improving air quality, having seen the benefits of improved air quality myself. My parents used to live in Lewisham, and my father suffered from chest problems for years, but that all changed when he moved to Bexley—and not just because it has a good council. As council leader, I am proud to report that, in Bexley, we have good air quality, below the legal limits, and we are always looking at ways to improve that air quality. But we fundamentally believe that the expansion of ULEZ to outer-London, and the way it has been done, is undemocratic.

If this amendment had been in place before, the mayor would not have been able to ignore local views, to fail to engage constructively with the boroughs or to have brought it forward in such a quick way that has had a disastrous impact on many of our residents. He also would not have contradicted the statement he made two years ago that he was not going to expand ULEZ. This amendment highlights a way to protect democracy for those in London going forward.

Local councils understand their locations and their residents—I know many Members here have connections. Bexley, like most other outer-London boroughs, is very different from central or inner-London. That is why my borough, like others, has campaigned against the Mayor of London’s insistence on extending ULEZ to the borders of London. We are very conscious of the need to continually look to improve air quality locally, and we take measures to do so, but our lack of transport connectivity—we are one of the few London boroughs without the Tube—makes us heavily reliant on the car. Many of our small businesses and trades men and women depend on vans. Many invested in the diesel vehicles they were told a decade ago were greener and cleaner but now face the ULEZ charge.

One of those measures is lobbying to improve public transport. You would hope that, when the opportunity arises, the mayor and TfL would seek to help, but in neither of the recent proposals for the Superloop or the DLR extension to Thamesmead did they even identify the need to improve the transport infrastructure in our part of the borough.

We have some of the poorest wards in London, and the residents in those wards are more likely to be those with non-compliant cars. Those cars are vitally important to allow residents to fulfil their employment, as well as look after their families. Cars, some on finance arrangements, have become worthless overnight. I have heard of many people taking out loans to replace them, the scrappage scheme not being relevant, or indeed having to revert to leasing rather than owning a car to allow them to get about.

In common with other outer-London boroughs, we also have a high number of older residents, and their cars give them independence to visit their family and friends, get their weekly shopping and attend medical appointments, among other things. How often do we all hear about people buying their last car? In the last few months, the communications I have received have included some revolving around people having to draw down their life savings to replace a car they had no intention of replacing.

The mayor’s expansion of ULEZ through outer London will impose fines on those who can least afford it. The stress of the imposition of this extension has not been good for the mental well-being of those who have been done unto. This is heartbreaking and devastating to so many people. Families have been split, unable to see each other; people are having to change jobs, including those unable to provide key front-line services because of the costs imposed by the mayor.

People are facing hardship and distress. When they voice their concerns, Mayor Khan, and his small band of allies, seek to insult and smear them, accusing them of being climate change deniers, Covid vaccine conspiracy theorists or the far right.

That brings me to the number of people being implicated—or the accuracy of the data that the mayor and TfL have been using. They said that nine out of 10 cars in the extended zone would be compliant. However, when challenged by organisations such as the AA and RAC, which obtained information from the DVLA under FoI, that number became known to be about 700,000 cars, and how the qualification of the nine out of 10 cars was collated became something of a farce. Likewise, I am sure noble Lords have all read the stories about Imperial College or a professor writing an article for the Lancet being asked to change their narrative as it did not support the extension.

Of course, there will be people who will not be able to change their vehicle. I am afraid that the mayor lives in a very different world from the one I live in if he thinks that £2,000 will buy a compliant car. That will include the key workers and tradesmen we are all dependent on. Is he not aware that in many instances, the cost of his fines will be passed on to others, thereby pushing up the prices of vital services or, indeed, will mean people choosing not to work in London? Likewise, we hear of the implications for voluntary organisations and charities, which are so important to our residents.

We are firm believers in democracy in Bexley. We put a manifesto before our electorate at every election, transposing it into our plans to ensure that we deliver the promises made, and we seek to represent our residents. Last May our manifesto included a commitment to oppose the ULEZ extension, and when we were re-elected, we started work to do what we said. That opposition from our residents and businesses was then repeated in the mayor’s own consultation—but, unlike us, he chose to ignore that message.

That is why this amendment is so important. Local councils understand the needs of their residents; we live the same lives as them, rather than being chauffeured around like the mayor—and, unlike the mayor, we believe in democracy. I support the amendment.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for tabling Amendment 282N and the consequential amendments, and His Majesty’s Government for supporting them. Unlike my noble friend, I do want to talk about ULEZ, although I totally understand and appreciate the points that he made about the importance of local democracy.

Noble Lords will know how important the blue badge scheme is to many disabled people and their families—and indeed their personal assistants, where applicable. I declare an interest as someone who relies on my blue badge for parking in a whole range of places, including town centres.

What noble Lords may not know is how relevant—indeed, how crucial—these amendments are to protecting blue badge holders from disability discrimination. In fact, I only became aware of this thanks to the indefatigable efforts of the formidable disability rights campaigner, Kush Kanodia.

As I understand it, incredibly, blue badge holders who are not in receipt of certain benefits are not exempt from ULEZ charges—unlike in Glasgow, for example. So this is effectively a discriminatory penalty for disability—or, in the case of non-disabled family members or personal assistants who may use a blue badge to assist with transport, a fine for providing support to a disabled person. This is surely not right. Amendment 282N and the consequential amendments would allow this manifest wrong to be put right through this opting-out provision. I wholeheartedly support it.

My Lords, here we are on day seven of Report, and up pops yet another amendment on a completely new topic. It is so out of scope that, to debate it, the Long Title of the Bill has also to be amended.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has chosen to discuss, via the theme of ULEZ, the London devolution deal. How much better if he had done so during the very long section of debate on the Bill devoted to devolution. The amendments that he has proposed have only a tenuous link with the prime purpose of this Bill: levelling up. If he wanted to truly level up in the areas of the country identified in the Government’s own White Paper, the amendments would focus on transport issues elsewhere in the country.

Those of us who live in the north, especially in west Yorkshire, can only dream of the quality of public transport available in London. For instance, the government commitment, repeated many times, simply to electrify the trans-Pennine route, has been dropped. The new trans-Pennine route, nationalised because of its previous failure, has the highest number of train cancellations of all train companies. Added to this appalling level of service comes the decision that the 13 new trainsets for the route are to be taken out of service for want of trained drivers. In addition to this very large dent in already creaking connectivity in the north is the increasingly poor service provided by bus companies, which results in growing numbers having to rely on private transport, thus increasing the already poor air quality in many northern urban areas.

How much more beneficial to promoting levelling up—the purpose of this Bill—if the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, had used his talent to direct government attention to levelling up connectivity, which is absolutely essential if areas defined in the levelling up White Paper are to enjoy growing investment and prosperity.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for introducing this group and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, as well as for drawing our attention to the importance of standards. Clearly, most of the debate has been around the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. As we are on Report, I shall be brief and make just two points in response to the noble Lord’s amendments.

First, I point out that Sadiq Khan has explicitly ruled out the introduction of pay-per-mile charging while he is Mayor of London. Secondly, on Amendment 282N, which seems to be the core amendment within the four amendments introduced, our concern is that this includes a loophole for councils to opt out of such schemes. Introducing that loophole undermines the national objective of improving air quality. We think that it risks increasing public confusion and is not in the interests of preventive health and improving air quality.

My Lords, Amendment 242 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, introduced by my noble friend Lord Lexden, would require the Government to make all standards that relate to all planning Acts or local authority planning policy, online and free of charge.

As I think I said in Committee, our national standards body, the British Standards Institution or BSI, publishes around 3,000 standards annually. These standards are a product of over 1,000 expert committees. BSI is independent of government and governed by the rights and duties included in its royal charter. This includes the obligation to set up, sell and distribute standards of quality for goods, services and management systems. About 20% of the standards produced are to support the regulatory framework. This will include a minority of standards made to support planning legislation and local authority planning policy. To ensure the integrity of the system and to support the effective running of the standards-making process, the funding model relies on BSI charging customers for access to its standards. As a non-profit distributing body, BSI reinvests this income from sales in the standards development programme.

My noble friend Lord Lexden asked what the difference is between a regulation and a standard. A regulation provides minimum legal requirements, is written by government and is laid before Parliament. A standard is expert-led and derives its legitimacy through consensus and public consultation. A standard, however, can help demonstrate compliance with legislation. My noble friend also brought up the issue of access in Northern Ireland’s libraries. Interestingly enough, access to British standards is available free in public and university libraries across this country as well, including the British Library, Herefordshire County libraries and the National Library of Scotland. I hope that this provides sufficient reason for my noble friend Lord Lexden, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, to withdraw the amendment.

I thank my noble friend Lord Moylan for tabling Amendments 282N, 302A, 315ZA and 317, to which I have added my name. He speaks with his characteristic eloquence about the challenges of introducing road user charging schemes in the capital. My noble friend’s experience in these matters is worth repeating. He is a former deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, a former deputy chairman of Transport for London and a former chairman of London Councils’ city-wide transport and environment committee. My noble friend therefore speaks with unrivalled experience and authority on matters of London’s governance.

My noble friend is entirely correct in his analysis of the differences between the mayoral model followed in London and the combined authority model followed elsewhere in England. He is right to draw attention to the resulting friction that can arise between London borough councils and the mayoralty in London. Regrettably, we have seen a clear display of this during the recent debates on the expansion of the ultra-low emission zones.

As the Government, through this Bill, look to widen and deepen the devolved powers of leaders outside the capital, it is right that we also take stock of how London’s devolution settlement is working in practice. To this end, the Government have committed, through their new English devolution accountability framework, published earlier this year, to review

“how current scrutiny and accountability arrangements in London are operating in practice”,

including

“how the Greater London Authority works and liaises with the London boroughs”.

In addition, the Levelling Up Advisory Council has been asked to examine the strengths and challenges of the capital’s devolution settlement, and a report on that is expected next year. In the meantime, my noble friend’s new clause on road user charging schemes in London provides a targeted, proportionate and wholly sensible correction to the current uneven distribution of power and decision-making between borough councils and the Greater London Authority when introducing ULEZ-style road user charging schemes across the capital. The amendment is entirely in keeping with the wider aims of the Bill to “empower local leaders” and to “enhance local democracy”. As such, I can confirm that, should my noble friend Lord Moylan wish to test the opinion of your Lordships’ House on this matter, he would have the Government’s support.

My Lords, how lucky my noble friend Lord Moylan was—he was garlanded with praise from the Front Bench.

On Amendment 242, I was extremely glad to hear from my noble friend that a number of libraries in Great Britain had the good sense to bring themselves into line with libraries in Northern Ireland, so that their users can have free online access to British standards. Where Northern Ireland has gone so successfully and pre-eminently, others now follow. That is extremely good news, so I shall not press the amendment.

We have already debated the amendment that follows. It is a modest amendment asking for local consultation purely in residential areas when a noisy business such as an all-night McDonald’s is to be placed among them. It seems entirely reasonable that local residents should be properly informed, so I ask my noble friend the Minister and her officials to reflect further on Amendment 243, which I shall not press. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 242.

Amendment 242 withdrawn.

Amendments 243 to 245 not moved.

Amendment 246

Moved by

246: After Clause 128, insert the following new Clause—

“Compulsory purchase orders: duty of care(1) The Secretary of State must, by regulations made by statutory instrument, publish a duty of care which applies to acquiring authorities involved in compulsory purchase orders, within six months of the day on which this Act is passed.(2) The duty of care must involve, but is not limited to, obligations on the acquirer to—(a) only acquire the land they demonstrate is necessary,(b) mitigate the impact of the scheme on claimants,(c) pay for the land taken at date of entry or vesting, and(d) ensure that all communication with the claimant is conducted in accordance with the Government’s guidance on compulsory purchase orders.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment will introduce a duty of care that considers the impacts on rural businesses when their land is acquired through compulsory purchase orders.

My Lords, I declare my interests in landownership as set out in the register.

Somewhat reluctantly, I am retabling the amendment from Committee stage, despite the very helpful response that I received from the Minister. Amendment 246, which I propose with the support of my noble friend Lord Lytton and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, involves the Secretary of State establishing a statutory duty of care setting out the obligations of the acquiring authority in a compulsory purchase situation. That would strengthen the obligation of the acquirer to consider, and possibly reduce, the impact of a compulsory purchase proposal on the claimant, their property and their business. The intention is to safeguard owners against the excesses of the acquiring authorities, many of which are large companies or government bodies.

The Minister, in her response, pointed to the guidance that is already in place for acquiring authorities to treat claimants with respect by undertaking early negotiations to identify what measures can be taken to mitigate the proposed schemes’ impact on land- owners. However, although the guidance is there, it really needs strengthening due to the lack of resources at acquiring authority level to understand fully and implement that guidance. A duty of care resulting from a statutory instrument will give a greater level of protection to those under threat of compulsory purchase and ensure that the acquiring authority considers it as a matter of first priority.

I cannot emphasize enough the appalling experience that greets the property owner affected by compulsory purchase. Some lose their whole property, while many others lose only a proportion, but the whole property suffers from the impacts of construction, which may go on for many years or decades, with the owner having to maintain a viable business throughout that time.

The acquirers’ responsibility is to compensate the land or business owner for their loss, but this is nearly always paid after the land has been taken, in some cases many years thereafter. This delay only adds to the loss. Anyone who has been affected by HS2, which includes me, knows exactly what I mean.

Property owners who are affected by compulsory purchase feel that their interests are often ignored by acquirers keen to deliver the scheme together with any environmental mitigation but with little consideration for the person or business that occupies that land. The statutory duty of care to consider and mitigate the impact on landowners and businesses impacted by the scheme, on top of government guidance on compulsory purchase, would rebalance the interests of delivering the scheme and reduce the impact. It would not delay or prevent schemes and could assist them by avoiding legal battles on interpretation of the guidance. It would also ensure that impacts on property owners and businesses are considered as a key part of the scheme, rather than being an afterthought considered only when compensation is due sometime later.

I hope the Minister will accept that this is a constructive amendment, designed to take much of the aggravation out of compulsory purchase while enabling sensible schemes to progress with greater consideration of the interests and livelihood of the owner. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and am a signatory to this amendment. I commend him for his succinct explanation. I also have land interests and some professional familiarity with compulsory purchase.

I have very little to add, but I simply say that the use of CPO powers, and the number of bodies exercising them directly or indirectly, is expanding. It risks subsuming the interests of the individual owner from whom rights are being compulsorily wrested. Some acquiring bodies have overriding commercial objectives, possibly only indirectly aimed at the promotion of public best interest, and I think we should be aware of that. Moreover, many of the safeguards built into the processes when they were used by what I will call the traditional acquiring authorities—for instance, government agencies, local government and so on—seem no longer to be entirely honoured in spirit. That is very important, particularly as we have an expanded use of CPO powers.

The amendment is thus a natural, logical and necessary safeguard for owners who are subject to these powers. They would, inter alia, deal with the evils of entry and taking of land without concurrent payment of compensation. That arrangement leaves a claimant on the back foot in negotiations, prejudiced financially and reorganising their affairs. Failure to adhere to the principles behind this amendment suggests a material erosion of the protocols that are familiar to us under the Human Rights Act—for the reasonable enjoyment of a citizen’s property not to be deprived without due process and for the rules-based system. That is why I support this amendment.

My Lords, on this side we are sympathetic to the intent of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, although somewhat doubtful about the mechanism he has proposed. I think we all want people who are subject to compulsory purchase orders to be treated in a humane and certainly human rights-compliant way. We do not want to return to the days of Crichel Down and everything that emerged from that.

Nevertheless, I think the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made it clear that he saw the fundamental problem being one of resources and a search for a less mechanistic way of enforcing compulsory purchase regulations. I would be interested to hear the Minister respond and, I hope, confirm that purchasing authorities will be given support to make sure that they take that process through speedily, particularly the payment of compensation, and in a timely fashion.

My Lords, I declare my interests as a former chartered surveyor. The current CPO guidance attempts to deal fairly with owners who are caught up in the process of having land acquired under compulsory purchase, but it remains a blunt instrument. This amendment requires the Government to provide a duty of care, which is an excellent proposal. It is also appropriate, as we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that compensation under CPO is paid on transfer, as it is when any citizen in this country buys or sells any of their private property. I see no reason at all why it should not also be the case under compulsory purchase. I support the amendment.

My Lords, the powers introduced by this section amend and clarify powers and procedures for using compulsory purchase and have been extensively consulted on—unlike some other parts of the Bill. The LGA’s view is that the introduction of measures that would genuinely make the CPO process more efficient for councils is an encouraging step, as it has previously lobbied on the need to reduce the time taken to use the CPO, and it also believes that these changes will make the valuation of change in this context closer to a normal market transaction.

In fact, the LGA view is that the Bill could have gone further. It would also like to see the ability to tackle sites which have had planning permission for a long time but which have not been built out through stronger compulsory purchase powers, and the removal of the requirement for permission from the Secretary of State to proceed with a CPO, which would expedite the process for local authorities. Of course, the Secretary of State could always retain the right to call in in circumstances where it would be necessary to do so.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and I am sympathetic to the specific issues they raised, particularly the issue about prompt payment for purchases of land. Perhaps I have had an unusual experience of the CPO process but the conditions are already stringent, both in setting out the process for a site qualifying for a CPO and in the requirement for valuation of that site. Therefore, while I appreciate the thinking behind the amendment, it seems that there is already guidance in place—indeed, the amendment refers to it. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, Amendment 246, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, would place a requirement on the Government to publish by regulations a new duty of care for all acquiring authorities undertaking compulsory purchase. The proposed duty of care would involve obligations on acquiring authorities to acquire only land necessary for their schemes and to mitigate the impacts of their schemes, as well as to pay compensation to landowners at the date of entry or date of vesting and ensure that all communication with claimants is conducted in accordance with government guidance. I reassure noble Lords that the Government understand the concerns behind this amendment. However, the Government consider the proposed duty of care to be unnecessary for the following reasons.

First, whatever the underlying scheme, a guiding principle of compulsory purchase is that acquiring authorities should include within the boundary of a CPO only land which is required to facilitate the scheme. It is for acquiring authorities to demonstrate that there is justification and a compelling case to support the inclusion of land within a CPO boundary. Where they cannot, a CPO is likely to fail.

Secondly, another principle is that the use of a CPO is lawful only providing that acquiring authorities compensate landowners for the loss of their interests, whether the land is acquired following notice to treat or is vested in the acquiring authority. Where an acquiring authority takes possession of land before compensation has been agreed, it is obliged to make an advance payment of compensation to the landowner if requested.

Thirdly, government guidance outlines that a benefit of acquiring authorities undertaking early negotiations with landowners is identifying what measures can be taken to mitigate the impacts of their scheme. Where this is not done, the CPO is again at risk of failing. It also requires that when making and confirming a CPO, both acquiring and authorising authorities should be sure that the purposes for which the CPO is made justify interfering with the human rights of those with an interest in the land affected.

Fourthly, while government guidance on compulsory purchase is not statutory, the Government will update their compulsory purchase guidance to promote the benefits of early, effective engagement and communication in the CPO process for ensuring fairness between the different parties to a CPO. The Government’s intention is to publish updated guidance on compulsory purchase alongside the coming into force of the relevant compulsory purchase reforms in the Bill, and they are committed to promoting best practice on communicating with landlords and reflecting this in published guidance.

This amendment would add duplication and complexity to the CPO process, which is contrary to the Government’s objectives. I trust I have given the House reassurance that Amendment 246 is unnecessary and that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is able to withdraw it.

I am delighted to receive that response from the Minister. I thank everybody who has taken part in this debate for the general support that I appear to have received from everybody who has spoken. It all comes down to the guidance and the enforcement of that guidance, and it is particularly welcome to hear that the update is currently under way. I think we will all look forward to seeing how that pans out. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 246 withdrawn.

Amendment 246A not moved.

Clause 158: Nutrient pollution standards to apply to certain sewage disposal works

Amendment 247

Moved by

247: Clause 158, page 184, line 21, at end insert—

“(c) in upgrading each nitrogen significant plant and each phosphorus significant plant—(i) publish a compliance and investment plan for each plant before upgrades are commenced, setting out how upgrades will be delivered,(ii) within each compliance and investment plan set out how upgrades will, wherever feasible and possible, use catchment-based approaches and nature-based solutions to secure a reduction in nutrient discharges equivalent to those required to meet that limit, and(iii) report annually to the Water Services Regulation Authority, the Environment Agency and the local planning authority on progress against the agreed compliance and investment plan.”(1A) A sewerage undertaker may not publish a plan under subsection (1)(c) before a draft of the plan has been approved by the Water Services Regulation Authority and the Environment Agency.(1B) The Water Services Regulation Authority and the Environment Agency must advise the local planning authority if compliance and investment plan monitoring suggests that the pollution standard will not be met and a local planning authority may disapply its obligations under Schedule 13 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 on receipt of such advice.(1C) The Environment Agency may exercise its functions under the Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2015 (S.I. 2015/810) if compliance and investment plan monitoring suggests that the pollution standard will not be met.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment will require sewage undertakers to secure OFWAT & Environment Agency approval for plans for upgrading plants in sensitive catchment areas, including plans to prioritise use of nature-based solutions to reduce nutrient pollution, thereby unlocking wider environmental benefits. The amendment also requires water companies to provide annual reports on progress towards meeting those plans, with failures to deliver plans on time leading to financial penalties.

My Lords, at an earlier stage of the Bill, I made the case, with others, for amending Clause 158, which concerns the statutory requirement for water companies to upgrade sewage plants to meet new nutrient standards in the areas worst affected by pollution. We welcomed this, but although it was seen as a good step forwards for improving water quality, frustratingly, it specified only that such upgrades should take place at the sewage disposal works themselves, usually meaning traditional engineering systems and solutions, which in themselves relied on concrete materials. Amendment 247, tabled in my name and with the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, was therefore designed to enable effective use of restored habitats, known in this context as nature-based solutions, by water companies to also meet those standards.

As we pointed out in Committee, those nature-based alternatives can be a really effective and very cheap approach to soaking up nutrient loads and reducing the pollution reaching rivers, as well as providing excellent habitats for biodiversity. Our amendment also had strong support from water companies and Ofwat, but in Committee, the Government’s argument against it was the suggestion that it could somehow let water companies off the hook by allowing them to use such nature-based measures to fudge the delivery of their upgrades. We have therefore brought back this tweaked amendment, in which we have added an explicit requirement for water companies to secure agreement for compliance and investment plans from Ofwat and the Environment Agency before commencing their updates—so we are putting a fail safe in there. We have also included in the amendment the ability for the Environment Agency to impose monetary penalties on water companies for failing to deliver on the compliance and investment plans.

Over the summer, concessions in this area were tabled by the Government, which I really welcome. Those amendments are really positive in principle. However—this is a very big “however”—I fear that Amendment 247 may become very insignificant for the environment if the other government amendments recently introduced into this group are passed. I will therefore briefly speak to those as well. As I am a scientist, I will address the amendments from a scientific perspective rather than addressing their constitutional and legal aspects. In particular, I want to focus on Amendment 247YYA, which amends the habitats regulations to remove controls on nutrient loads in rivers for those that are associated with housing developments.

The amendments are based on the premise that the extra nutrient loading in areas where the relevant houses will be built will be less than 1% of the loading of the existing housing stock. This is where a key piece of evidence is missing: what is the loading of the existing housing stock? The Home Builders Federation would like us to believe that houses contribute 5% of excess nutrient loads in rivers in England compared with 50% from agricultural activities, so it is all the problem of farmers and not of housebuilders.

I quote from the Home Builders Federation:

“It is estimated that all existing development, including residential, commercial and the rest of the built environment, contributes less than 5% towards the phosphate and nitrate loads in our rivers—meaning the occupants of any new homes built would make a negligible difference”.

But the evidence base is, very strangely, lacking: where does that 5% come from? Searching for it leads me to believe that the figure has been extrapolated from a 2014 Defra report, The Impact of Agriculture on the Water Environment: summary of evidence, which was used to inform the 25-year environment plan. The first thing to note is that this report has since been updated by Defra, and the most recent statistics stand as follows:

“Agriculture is the dominant source of nitrate in water (about 70% of total inputs), with sewage effluent a secondary contributor (25-30%)”—

not 5%.

I also looked at other data that could support this level of 5% from the built environment, so I did a search of academic studies that had been published in the peer-reviewed literature in the past three years in similar climatic regions across the world to look at the percentage source of pollution in river catchments that contain a mix of agriculture and urban development. I could not find a single example that suggested a value as low as 5% of the nutrients in rivers coming from housing. One found that, in a large catchment containing seven rivers, 14% of nutrients were from wastewater from residential buildings; in another, it was 33%, and 28% in another. All were significantly higher than the 5% that we have been told is the likely impact. For the UK, a recent assessment by Greenshank Environmental also indicates a far higher nutrient load in rivers from housing, closer to 36%. I therefore urge other noble Lords not to take this 5% figure too seriously.

Worse than this, if Amendment 247YYA goes through, we will never know the true value, since the amendment instructs planning authorities to assume no increase in pollution, prevents them requesting an assessment to investigate pollution further and even goes as far as to instruct authorities to ignore any evidence of potential adverse impacts; for example, as provided by scientific studies or even NGOs. It simply cannot be acceptable to amend one of our key environmental protections like this.

These amendments also fly in the face of the environment statement on the Bill, which says:

“The Bill will not have the effect of reducing the level of environmental protection provided for by any existing environmental law”.

That does not seem to be the case. The Government’s own adviser, and the chair of the Office for Environmental Protection, made this point in a letter to the Government last week.

In conclusion, I will not be supporting these later government amendments. I urge other noble Lords to do the same, not least because in this country we are already dealing with extremely polluted rivers. In February this year, the Environment Agency reported that only 14% of our rivers are classified as being in a good ecological status. It also stated that, without new interventions, this figure will drop to just 6% by 2027. I beg to move.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, and to assist noble Lords participating in this debate, I will speak to the government amendments in this group. I will of course address the amendments tabled by noble Lords and the wider debate in my closing remarks.

All the amendments in my name address the major issue of nutrient neutrality, which has effectively stalled or blocked completely housing development in affected areas. For procedural reasons, and agreed in the usual channels, I will treat the tailing amendments—Amendments 247YE and 247YX—as de-grouped.

This issue is hampering local economies, depriving communities of much needed housing and threatening to put the SME builders out of business. Nutrients entering our rivers is a real and serious problem, but the contribution made by new homes is very small compared with that from sources such as industry, agriculture and our existing housing stock. Government Amendments 247A to 247YW cover a range of improvements to our current approach to improving wastewater treatment. These amendments respond to comments and concerns of noble Lords in Committee about more nature-based and catchment-based approaches. I hope they will be welcomed.

I now turn to Amendment 247YYA, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, which would require a competent authority to make a reasonable assumption for relevant developments that nutrients from that development will not adversely affect the integrity of the site. The assumption we are asking competent authorities to make is reasonable for two reasons. First, this assumption is limited to the development where the wastewater is treated by a wastewater treatment works or private treatment system regulated under the environmental permitting regulations. This means that nutrient loads in wastewater will remain strictly controlled through the environmental permitting regime, which places legally binding duties on water companies, and through the regulators of the water industry, which are subject to the requirements of the habitats regulations. Secondly, the mitigations that we are putting in place will ensure that there are no additional nutrient loads from residential development.

If we are to take these reasonable steps, we need to amend the habitats regulations in the way our amendments set out. This is a carefully targeted and specific change, aimed only at addressing a disproportionate application of the regulations since the Dutch nitrogen case in the European Court of Justice. Following the findings in this case, since March 2022 housing development in affected catchments has been stalled or blocked—even though new housing contributes such a small proportion of pollution.

In these areas, following the guidance that Natural England was required to issue, development may not be consented unless and until, case by case, house by house, mitigation is in place. This applies even though the additional pollution we are talking about—the additional nitrate and phosphate which remains in the water after domestic sewage is treated—will not get anywhere near the waterways unless the houses not only have planning permission but have been built and occupied.

New development is stalling at the point of planning permission, or even, in many cases, after permission has been granted. It is an absurd situation that is undermining local economies, costing jobs, threatening to put small developers out of business and, above all, leaving communities without the homes that they want and need.

This is not to say that the problem of nutrient pollution in our rivers is unimportant—it very much is—but developers and local planning authorities are bound up in a burdensome and expensive process that does nothing to give certainty to anyone, creating huge opportunity costs. In some catchment areas, hard work by Natural England, environmental groups and developers has started to allow some housing to be consented. However, having listened to the concerns of local communities, local authorities and housebuilders, it is clear that these schemes are moving too slowly, with no guarantee that demand can be met imminently.

In short, our habitat protections are rightly prized, but in this case they are focusing huge effort on a very small part of the problem and distracting from the root causes of nutrient pollution. Therefore, in parallel to the amendments we propose, the Government have set out an ambitious plan for nature recovery. We are, through existing provisions in the Bill, obliging water companies to upgrade wastewater treatment works in designated catchments by 1 April 2030. These provisions alone will outweigh the nutrients expected from the new housing developments by putting in place wider upgrades for the long term and will benefit existing houses, not just new ones.

We are providing Natural England with £280 million to expand and evolve its existing nutrient mitigation scheme. Natural England’s own judgment is that this is sufficient funding to compensate for any additional nutrient flows from up to 100,000 homes between now and 2030.

We will work with Natural England to develop what are known as protected site strategies—plans drawn up in partnership with local communities that will chart a course to full restoration of the most affected habitat sites in catchments where demand for housing is highest. These will further be underpinned by action to address the real sources of nutrient pollution: conducting at least 4,000 farm inspections each year to make sure that slurry and other pollutants are handled in the right way; investing £200 million in grants for improved slurry storage and equipment; and devoting £25 million to farming innovation in nutrient management and making sure our farmers get the best out of new technologies. All these measures will play their part in ensuring the Government meet their legally binding target to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution from agriculture into the water environment by at least 40% by 2038, with the interim target of a 10% reduction by 31 January 2028, and a more stretching 15% in the relevant catchments.

Before I conclude, I turn to Amendments 247YX and 247YY, which provide for delegated powers in support of the principal provisions. With your Lordships’ leave, I will also speak to Amendment 247YYZB from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. I am grateful to the Delegated Powers Committee for its comments on these powers and take seriously its considerations. I wrote to the committee earlier today.

It remains the Government’s position that the powers we are taking are necessary and proportionate. While the power provided for under these amendments is couched in broad terms, this is as a consequence of the complexity of the existing law—complexity acknowledged by the Delegated Powers Committee. However, I wish to make it clear that the Government will use these delegated powers sparingly, and only to avoid unforeseen confusions or contradictions that may arise. There is also a sunset clause, which ensures the powers will fall away in 2030, which should allow sufficient time to ensure that the statute book is operating as intended.

The Government have also reflected on some of the points made in recent days and agree that there would be benefit in providing for consultation prior to the use of these powers, as well as ensuring that the vires do not extend beyond what is strictly necessary. We therefore intend to accept Amendment 247YYZB in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead.

I wish to end by noting, for the benefit of noble Lords, the views of both developers and local authorities on the Government’s approach. The Home Builders Federation noted:

“With some areas having been blighted for 4 years, the prospect of a swift resolution will be much-needed good news for companies on the verge of going out of business”,

while the District Councils’ Network noted that

“It will unblock tens of thousands of much needed new and affordable homes for more than 40 of our member councils”.

This is why the Government have decided to act. It is why this debate matters so much. I hope my explanation has been an assistance to noble Lords in considering these amendments.

My Lords, I declare my interests as may be relevant to this debate. I will speak in a minute to my Amendments 247YYAA, 247YYAB, and 247YYAC, but I must start by asking the Minister—I remain surprised by this—why she has, on Report, tabled such a large number of amendments that seek to reverse previous government policy on nutrient neutrality.

As the Office for Environmental Protection, set up by the Government in the Environment Act 2021, has stated—and I quote from Dame Glenys Stacey’s letter of 30 August—

“The proposed changes would demonstrably reduce the level of environmental protection provided for in existing environmental law. They are a regression”.

After a further exchange of letters with the Defra Secretary of State and a meeting, Dame Glenys wrote a second letter on 1 September. Again, I quote:

“What is certain is that the proposed amendments would amount to regression in law”.

She goes on to say:

“This is contrary to statements made in each House of Parliament on behalf of the Government”.

I have quoted from the Office for Environmental Protection to show that this is not in any way a political attack on the Government’s policy. The Office for Environmental Protection is the public body set up to protect and improve the environment by holding government to account. Ministers must therefore understand that any opposition to these amendments comes only from a desire by Members of this House, on all sides, to protect and improve the environment.

We all recognise the need to build more houses, and where possible to remove obstacles to achieving this, but surely none of us wishes this to be achieved at the expense of further damage to the environment. Ministers say this is fully mitigated, but that is not clear in the amendments. More houses create more sewage, and therefore there must be mitigation. But the Government appear to be relieving housebuilders from the cost of this mitigation and passing it to the taxpayer.

The announcement of additional money for Natural England is very welcome, but surely there must be a continuing requirement for housebuilders to contribute financially to mitigation. The Minister, in her letter to Peers on 29 August, said:

“The Government intends to work with the house building industry to ensure that larger developers make an appropriate and fair contribution to this scheme over the coming years”.

I must respectfully say to the Minister that that is not enough. There must be a legal requirement for housebuilders to contribute in each case to protecting the environment from further pollution created by new houses.

I now turn to the three amendments in my name. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for adding their names. I know also that the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, had wanted to sign but was pipped at the post by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Noble Lords will therefore understand that these are cross-party amendments with no party-political motivation.

For the benefit of noble Lords who have not been able—or inclined—to get into the detail of this large group of late-in-the-day government amendments, I must quote from them. In government Amendment 247YYA, in new Regulation 85A(2)—inserted by paragraph 11 of part 2 of new Schedule 13—it reads:

“When making the relevant decision, the competent authority must assume that nutrients in urban waste water … will not adversely affect the relevant site”.

I am surprised that any Minister from any department—or any party—could propose to Parliament such a paragraph. It is instructing a planning authority to disregard the facts. By any definition, that would be bad law. In paragraph (3) of new Regulation 85A, which I also seek to delete, the Bill instructs the planning authority not even to assess any possible pollution and, in paragraph (4), the planning authority is again instructed to disregard any assessment made by third parties, even the appropriate nature conservation body. I hope that all noble Lords will agree with me that this is just too far.

Here, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for various meetings in the last few days. I also received at 7 pm yesterday a long letter from the noble Lord, Lord Benyon. Ministers argue that all the government amendments in this group are a package and that we should not look at individual clauses in isolation. I regret that I do not accept that argument. I believe that the duty of this House is to improve and then approve clear and coherent legislation. The government amendments are defective in wording and contrary to science in intention. I cannot believe that any noble Lord of whatever party could vote in favour of such proposed legislation.

My Lords, I speak to this group of amendments, which come under the broad heading of nutrient neutrality. I declare my interest as a member of your Lordships’ Built Environment Committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. The committee will release a report next week on the impact of environmental regulations on development. As our report is still under wraps, I cannot quote from it, but it provides important insights into the issues before us regarding nutrient neutrality, and my comments today will not, I think, clash with any of the committee’s findings.

I find it very hard to take a different perspective from that of my noble friend the Duke of Wellington—in so doing, I think I may be in a somewhat small minority—but government action of some sort has to be taken to address the mess we are in with nutrient neutrality. Out of the blue came the advice to local planning authorities that unless impossibly onerous mitigations were put instantly into effect, all housebuilding should be banned in the designated catchment areas where rivers were being polluted—advice that local planning authorities could not ignore without the risk of expensive judicial reviews. This moratorium was sprung on local authorities and the private and social housing developers with immediate effect without being phased in over time, without consultation and apparently against the advice of the Government’s own statutory advisers.

Yet, no one is claiming that new housebuilding is the main cause of the problem of river pollution. It accounts for a modest proportion, and here we get into some technical arguments. We had heard in the committee that less than 5% of the problem was attributable to new homebuilding but today the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, called that figure into question. With her expertise, I feel sure that she is right. That makes the case for greater mitigation measures than have been proposed to date. I wish we had heard her evidence in our committee proceedings.

Nevertheless, whatever the figure, housebuilding is not the main culprit here. The big culprits are, first, intensive farming—poultry farms, fish farms and pig farms—and secondly, the water companies, which have not done what they should have done for years. But the penalty unfairly falls squarely on those building new homes who, in all other respects, satisfy planning conditions and meet environmental regulations.

The Government talk in terms of the current moratorium meaning 100,000 homes not being able to proceed in the years ahead. The housebuilders, whose figures I am now more doubtful of than perhaps before, told the Built Environment Committee that the moratorium risks the loss of 41,000 homes for each year the ban is in place. I know that many people welcome the demise of any housing development—and the performance of some housebuilders on quality, affordability, design and more leaves a great deal to be desired—but like it or not, we must ensure that there are enough homes to go round while also tackling those failings.

We have a lot of catching up to do. The Centre for Cities and the IFS have pointed out that we would have another 4.3 million homes if we had matched the housebuilding of the average European country. Already we are going to miss the widely accepted target of 300,000 homes a year for a series of other reasons, and now the nutrient neutrality moratorium is setting us back even further. Some 20% to 30% of the tens of thousands of homes lost in this moratorium comprise affordable housing that is so badly needed. Local SME builders in an affected area cannot go elsewhere and jobs and businesses are lost. Remember that new developments will now bring with them 10% or more biodiversity net gain, making new homes a net contributor in the future to environmental goals.

Something must certainly be done to remove this arbitrary, damaging and unfair housing ban. The Government’s proposals effectively take nutrient neutrality out of the consideration of planners altogether and provide some extra funds for mitigation, but it is a pretty crude approach. A long-term solution has to address the intensive farming issues and get on top of the water company failures. A more considered and comprehensive policy change with clear guidance for planners and practitioners needs to set nutrient neutrality alongside water neutrality and all the other nature recovery measures. If this is what the Government intend—and these government amendments today represent a very short-term pause while a more serious policy response is consulted on and worked out—then maybe it is a necessary stopgap. But we certainly should not be in this position and I hope the Built Environment Committee’s report will contribute to a fairer long-term, comprehensive approach that reconciles the need for vital environmental improvements with equally important efforts to tackle acute housing shortages.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority, which is a major planning authority. I am speaking to Amendment 247, to which I have added my name, and the three amendments in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to which I have also added my name.

The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, has set out with great clarity the rather modest intention of our original Amendment 247, which was to underpin the delivery of nutrient neutrality measures, which are necessary to halt the catastrophic damage to some of our most protected wetland sites. Since then, of course, the Government have tabled a raft of amendments that would have the opposite effect to that which we were seeking to achieve in our original amendment. That Government package goes against many of the fundamental principles of environmental protection to which we agreed during our consideration of the Environment Act.

We have heard reference to the letters from the chair of the Office for Environmental Protection, Glenys Stacey, who has made it clear that the government amendments amount to a regression in law. In the meeting that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, had with Peers this week, she said that that judgment by the OEP was wrong as it had not considered all the factors. That is a serious allegation to make, and I would be grateful if the Minister could update the House on how these differences of opinion between the Government and the independent regulator, the OEP, are being addressed.

Our Amendments 247YYAA, 247YYAB and 247YYAC address the heart of our concerns about the Government’s proposals. First, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has said, they place an intolerable requirement on public bodies to ignore the evidence of water pollution in plain sight and pretend that it does not exist. In fact, I am surprised that these late amendments were not sent back to the lawyers due to defective drafting; as has been said, they now require public bodies to look both ways at once, facing different requirements in different legislation. As Matthew Parris said in his recent Times article, under the government proposals,

“when considering an application to build, the authorities must assume that what poisons rivers does not poison rivers”.

This is madness. Planning authorities currently have a responsibility to take all material considerations into account, including the need for more housing and for environmental protections. The government proposals will undermine our evidence-based planning system and set a dangerous precedent.

Secondly, it is being argued that these measures are necessary to unlock housebuilding. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Best, and normally I agree with him on so much, but I felt that his contribution was rather intemperate and had obviously been swayed by some of the so-called evidence given to his committee. I wish that, as he said, the committee had heard evidence from the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, before it made its decisions on this issue, because delays in securing planning permission are not the biggest barrier—it is the inability of developers to build out schemes that have already been approved. We all know the statistics about how much is already in train but has not been developed.

The further uncertainty caused by the government amendments may mean that fewer houses, not more, will be built. Because the legislation is not retrospective, there will be tens of thousands of homes across the country for which consent has already been given, with nutrient provisions in place, but on which the developers have not yet begun. So planning departments will need to enforce the nutrient provisions in relation to those consented developments, leading to a two-tier system that will last for many years.

Thirdly, as Natural England has confirmed, it is perfectly possible to address the balance between the habitat regulations and housebuilders through non-legislative means. There are already a number of well-established schemes that do this, adopting a more strategic approach to the nutrient migration scheme. The Government and the noble Lord, Lord Best, have suggested that everything has come to a halt. This is simply not the case. Housebuilding is still happening, and people are working with Natural England to make sure it is being done in an environmentally sensitive way.

Finally, these proposals will be a major blow to the rollout of the green finance system, which is necessary to support nature recovery. For example, in the South Downs we estimate that we have about 4,000 hectares of nutrient neutrality offset land in the Test, Itchen and Solent catchment areas alone. That represents around £400 million of potential income to landowners and farmers to support economic opportunities and help with the agricultural transition, while also supporting nature recovery.

Without nutrient neutrality offsetting, the Government have no hope of reaching their private finance targets in the environmental improvement plan of £500 million every year by 2027—so it is a lose-lose situation. I urge noble Lords to reject these ill thought out plans and find a consensual way to deliver a housebuilding programme that enhances, rather than wrecks, our water quality.

My Lords, I am grateful to speak, in part in my capacity as chairman of your Lordships’ Built Environment Select Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred. I should explain that we have, perhaps coincidentally, spent the last six months taking evidence—not “so-called evidence” but actual evidence—on precisely this topic. The subject of our inquiry has been the interaction between environmental regulations and development. Inevitably, the question of nutrient neutrality has occupied an important place, because it is so important and live. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has explained that the report is not yet published; it is practically at the printer, and we hope it will appear next week, so we are not in a position today to quote from it. However, I see a number of members of the committee in the Chamber and I hope that they will speak, because we have been very struck by what we have found.

A great deal of what we found was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and I do not propose to repeat all of that. I will speak more briefly, but I would like to draw attention to one conclusion we reached without any dissent. When new environmental legislation is introduced, which is well thought out, consulted on and given adequate time for implementation, it is normally absorbed, adopted and implemented by the housebuilding industry with no disruption or difficulty. That is the right way for us to make environmental legislation; it is what we normally do. However, in this case, that is not what has happened at all.

The root of the problem is a European Court of Justice decision in 2018 in a case related to Dutch farming—which, as we all know, is probably the most intense farming in the world—and the consequences it had in the Netherlands for run-off into watercourses. That judgment created a more restrictive interpretation of existing habitat regulations than had been agreed and understood before. Because we were still part of the European Union—I shall not go into the European consequences of this—Natural England rightly understood that this judgment had an effect in England as well. So it took legal advice on what consequences it had.

It then went off and discussed it with Defra, and Defra look legal advice. I have not seen that advice, but it appears to have concurred with the advice obtained by Natural England. Our committee still does not quite understand why Defra insisted at that stage that nobody should be allowed to discuss this, and that it all had to be kept very secret between Defra and Natural England. The result was that when it announced the consequences of that new decision, as it understood them, there was no warning whatever. There was none of the normal consensus, building of consultation, buying in, or time for implementation. All of a sudden, it appeared in a number of catchment areas covering, I believe, approximately 14% of the land area of England. It is absolutely true that it has not stopped housebuilding in every part of England but, in effect, overnight there was a moratorium in roughly 14% of the land area of England even on the completion of sites that already had planning permission. This is utterly disruptive and completely unplanned and, in my view, evidence and argument for treating this particular circumstance as a special case. The Government need to take steps to sort this out, untangle ourselves and make a plan that allows us to deliver all our housebuilding and environmental objectives over time.

That is why I support this package. It does involve a few optical devices, but they achieve the effect. It effectively says that you can carry on building housing that we desperately need—local housing, affordable housing and student accommodation, which are all caught by the ban—but there will also be additional, mitigating measures. More money and bigger efforts will be put into addressing the pollution in our watercourses. That is the sort of balance we need to achieve if we are not to be paralysed completely. There is a strong reason for thinking of this as a special case.

Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, I have not extensively researched how big a contributor housebuilding is. I have simply looked it up on Google. There are 26.5 million dwellings in England and Wales. We build a number of new houses each year. The government target is 300,000, but we do not get close to this. We are very lucky if we hit 250,000—which is 1% of the existing stock. Even if all the nutrient problems in our watercourses came from housing, new housebuilding would still be a very small fraction of what we are discussing; it would be less than 1%. But we know that it does not all come from housing. A great deal of it comes from poor agricultural practice built up over years. It comes from piggeries and from chicken farms that are not properly managed. We know that it comes from sewage works that are inadequate for the combined flows of water and sewage they are expected to take. So, when you take that into account, it is not even 1%; it is a fraction of 1%. We just need to keep this in proportion and not be excessively hysterical about it.

As I said, it is a matter of great regret that this debate is taking place before the Select Committee report appears next week. I encourage noble Lords to read it when it appears. I think they will find a great deal of evidence in it that is relevant to what we are discussing today.

My Lords, we ought to remember that we are discussing the amendments that the Government have put before us, rather than a committee report that we have not got and which will, no doubt, be of great interest.

We have to recognise that there may well be an issue here that needs properly to be addressed. My concern is that this is not the way to address it. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, suggested that when we deal with the environment, we should consider it very carefully, go out to consultation and make sure that what we are doing is right. None of that has happened here. The Government have put down a whole series of amendments to this Christmas tree of a Bill and some of us are suggesting that we should not do this—although, were they to come forward with something that met the particular problems in a way that was not so manifestly bad, I am sure we would be supportive.

I rather object to the fact that the newspapers say that I am a Conservative rebel. It is the Government who are the rebel here, because they are not being conservative over this. First, they are asking local authorities—I can hardly believe it—to disregard the facts. This is the kind of attitude that we see in the Republican Party in the United States, the people who do not believe in climate change, the anti-vaxxers, who say “Don’t look at the facts”. The second thing that local authorities are being asked to do is encourage ignorance: not only “Don’t look at the facts” but “Don’t look at any evidence or find any evidence—just do what the Government say should be done”.

The argument the Government have put forward is that we need this to build more houses. I was the Secretary of State responsible for that. I had a long history of dealing with the housebuilders, who tell us that this will increase the number of houses. The number of houses built has nothing to do with this at all—it is about whether the housebuilders think that that number will keep the price up at the level at which they have it. The housebuilders are not building the houses they have already got planning permission for in areas which are not in any way affected by this. We know that perfectly well. It is a canard, if I may use a foreign word, to suggest that this will have any effect on the number of houses. The number of houses in this country is not reaching 300,000 because the housebuilders have bought the land at a price which means that they can sell only at a level which is too elevated for the present time, with mortgages as they are. Let us not kid ourselves that, by voting against this, we will in some way reduce the number of houses, because we will not.

I find it extremely difficult when I am told that the housebuilders should not pay for the damage they do. Three arguments are used. First is the housemaid’s argument: it is only a very little bit—“It is only a very little baby”—and therefore we do not have to take it into account. As a former chairman of the Climate Change Committee, I have to say that that is the argument everybody uses every time you want to do anything—“It isn’t me”; “They are bigger than we are”; “Don’t do it in Britain because of China”; “Don’t do it because of the farmers”; “Don’t do it for anyone, but don’t ask me to pay for my pollution”.

Secondly, I thought that the Conservative Party was in favour of the polluter pays. Were my noble friend the Minister canvassing in the Mid Bedfordshire by-election at this moment, would she turn to an elector and say, “In future, housebuilders building in the Wye Valley or near the Monnow will not have to contribute for the cost and the damage they do, but you will through your taxes. You, the Mid Bedfordshire voter in the by-election, will now be asked to subsidise the housebuilders”? That is what these amendments are about—the subsidising of the housebuilders.

In the end, we could go even further. Why do we not have a Bill to say that housebuilders can ignore health and safety arrangements because then more housing would be built? Why do we not say that local authorities must not know what the health and safety laws are and must not investigate what they might be so that houses might be built?

This is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have ever seen, and I have been around a long time. It is entirely unconservative. If all this was so obvious so long ago, why was it not included in the Bill in the first place, or in some other Bill? As we have, in my view, some pretty peculiar legislation on ex-EU laws, why have the Government not used their powers therein?

I sat through debate after debate on how we were going to protect the British people instead of the court in Brussels and on how we would have proper protection against government mishandling of the environment. We were assured that Glenys Stacey and her department would be treated with all the respect that one would have expected. We were told that she would have all the powers necessary for the Government to take her seriously. What have they done? Two pathetic letters, and no statement—this is a judgment that you should make and we will change things because that is why you are there. That means that the British people are now less protected from government mistakes than any country in the rest of Europe. I make no comment about Brexit, but that is where this House and the other place have left the people of Britain.

I do not believe that the Government can do these things and not expect future generations to say, “If they could do that on this issue, what about other things?” They could say that local authorities can ignore this, that and the other and do not need the facts. Indeed, we do not have the facts here—there is no proof about these houses or any of this; it is an assertion by the Secretary of State.

I am not a Conservative rebel—I am a Conservative. Therefore, I am voting for the principle of the polluter pays, for facts and for knowledge, and I am not voting for ignorance and the disregard of facts.

The noble Lord, Lord Deben, is not an easy act to follow, but I shall try.

We were lied to in this House. Our Government promised us repeatedly that there would be no lessening of environmental protection at any time. They promised us that and they lied. As a result of Brexit, we are now almost unprotected. Loads of us knew at the time that they were lying.

My Lords, the noble Baroness knows full well that parliamentary rules do not allow her to use those words, so we would be grateful to her if she could withdraw them.

The noble Baroness knows full well the words that she has just used, and we would be most grateful to her if she could withdraw those words.

I genuinely did not know that I could not say that in this House. I know that in the other place we cannot say it. It is very difficult for me to withdraw words that I know are the truth, but I will withdraw them.

If the noble Baroness looks at the Companion, she will see that it is very clear on parliamentary language. So, I respectfully point to the Companion—and if she could read that and withdraw those words.

I withdraw them.

We were told repeatedly during the passage of the Environment Bill that there would be no lowering of environmental standards in the post-Brexit legislation. That clearly has happened; environmental standards are down. I suppose that it was obvious, because the Government promised, but they refused to put it in that Bill; they absolutely refused, when we kept asking them. This is the same package of obfuscation as their refusal to guarantee post-Brexit workers’ rights or food standards—it is all part of the same thing.

I know that I am a bit cynical about this rotten Government, but even I would not have predicted that the Government would choose such a blatant act of environmental vandalism as these late amendments to the levelling up Bill. Our rivers and streams are already being pumped full of excrement on a daily basis, so why would Ministers feel that it was all right to pump any more in? How are they going to explain that when they pump it into the waterways of the Norfolk Broads or the Lake District?

The clear outcome from these amendments is that water pollution will be higher. The Government can argue as much as they like that the overall effect will be better because of mitigation but, to anyone who understands nature, that will be nonsense. The two most dangerous amendments are government Amendments 247YY and 247YYA. Amendment 247YY introduces a Henry VIII clause that allows the Government to revoke or amend any Act of Parliament or retained EU law concerning the “environment, planning or development” in relation to

“any effect of nutrient in water”,

and the way in which regulators take into account the effect of nutrients in water. Those are huge, far-reaching powers that will last for several years. There is no requirement in the amendment for these changes to be based on science or evidence; the Government will be able to force regulators to act against science and evidence.

The other dangerous amendment is government Amendment 247YYA, which forces authorities and regulators to assume that water pollution from proposed developments will not affect habitats, even when evidence proves that the water pollution will have a detrimental impact on habitats. So, the Government are forcing authorities to assume that water pollution will not affect habitats. This is complete and utter nonsense. They are banning authorities from requiring any assessment of the impact of water pollution on habitats and, worse still, the Government are forcing authorities to disregard the results of any evidence of the impact of water pollution on habitats, even when there is absolute proof that it will cause harm.

We cannot amend such bad law. I thank the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, for his role in this campaign, because his important amendments highlight the sheer absurdity of the Government’s proposal to force planning authorities to pretend that water pollution either does not exist or is not harmful. The Minister talks about more taxpayers’ money being put into mitigation measures as if it were a good thing, so the developers will be allowed to pollute and the taxpayer will be expected to cover the cost of the clean-up. People do not want to pay more in tax, and certainly not if it means more pollution—and certainly not if it means that housing developers can make bigger profits.

It is relevant that housing developers have put £60 million into Conservative Party coffers over the past decade. This policy is the payback by the Prime Minister on that investment. These donations, which account for around one-fifth of Conservative Party funding, had dried up at the beginning of the year; the developers had gone on strike and were refusing to hand over more money until the Government gave a big boost to their share price and dividend payments. I am not sorry to get in the way of such systemic corruption.

The best thing we can do with these government amendments is to reject them. The Government can bring forward fresh legislation if they want to insist on these, and that can be consulted on properly by local authorities and public bodies. They can have this debate as we all get ready for a general election and see how it goes down in a country where swimming in our rivers and on our coasts has become a dangerous sport. We can stop these dangerous government amendments—and we can do that by simply voting “not content”.

I shall speak to my amendment, Amendment YYZB, to which the Minister offered her support. It proposes two brief additions to the new clause proposed in Amendment 247YY, prompted out of concern about the wording of the clause we are being asked to approve.

I make it clear that this amendment is a probing one only. I very much regret—this follows a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben—that we are being asked to deal with this at such short notice at Report, particularly in view of the importance of the points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Moylan. This is a great misfortune, because we should really be dealing with this in the ordinary way in Committee, when we have the freedom to propose and discuss amendments and improve their wording stage by stage. We are faced with a measure produced at Report, and my amendment is an attempt to probe and draw attention to defects, not to cure a basic defect in the way the whole process is being handled.

My wording, and the points I have mentioned in my amendment, have been reinforced by what was said by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in paragraph 9 of its report: that the power proposed to be given to the Secretary of State by this clause is

“subject to little by way of constraint”.

That is a generous understatement, I suggest. It is a broad, open Henry VIII clause. In its full vigour as it stands, it lacks any requirement for consultation or any indication of the criteria that must be satisfied in this highly sensitive subject.

There is one other aspect of this clause that I, as one who believes in the quality and integrity of the legislation we are asked to approve, find very disturbing. This is a very controversial subject that has been worked through already, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, pointed out in her reference to the Environment Act. The question raised in my mind when I saw that we were dealing with the whole issue of nutrients in water was, “What does the Environment Act say about it?” There is no indication in the Government’s new clause that that Act has been given any thought at all.

Water is dealt with in Part 5 of that Act, and the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to water quality are set out in some detail in Section 89. We find here a set of carefully designed powers that are combined with requirements for consultation before they are exercised. They also take account of the fact that some of England’s rivers flow into or have their source in Wales or Scotland, so there is provision for consultation with the devolved authorities.

There are other safeguards in that Act as well. Section 20 provides for Ministers making Statements to Parliament about Bills making changes to environment law. We have not had that, because of the way this has been handled. Of course, Section 22 provides for the establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection, with important regulatory and reporting powers. What disturbs me—I may be mistaken—is that all this seems to have been ignored by the Government in formulating this new clause. It is as if the environment protections, which we spent so much time two years ago discussing in great detail, in an Act which the Government themselves promoted, did not exist. I think that many of us remember the satisfaction we felt when that Act was eventually passed, because we had done such detailed work on improving the Act in the interests of our environment. Yet apparently—and I stress the word “apparently”—it has been ignored.

My amendment seeks in a modest way to meet the point that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee makes in paragraph 11 of its report about the warning by the Office for Environmental Protection. There appears to have been no public consultation prior to the publication of these new measures. The first paragraph of my amendment would require regulations made under this clause to be consistent with what Section 89 of the Environment Act requires, and the second would require consultation.

However, this is a probing amendment, and I will not be moving it when the time comes. The first reason for that is that I support those who argue that this new clause should not form part of the Bill. It is not just a matter of small amendments; it is a much more fundamental objection, as others have made clear. The second is that, quite frankly, I am not confident that my amendment, with its mere reference to Section 89 of the Environment Act, is an accurate way of trying to reconcile the clause with what is in the Environment Act. It requires more careful study, and simply to accept my amendment as the Government propose to do is not the way to deal with it.

I do not suggest, and I never did, that I have the complete answer to this; I simply raise issues for the Government to consider. If the Government succeed in the vote that will take place, then I urge them to consider an amendment along these lines at Third Reading. However, if they bring back the legislation at some later stage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, contemplated, then I very much hope that they will pay attention to the points that my amendment raised.

My Lords, in the spirit of brevity, I will not speak to the amendments to which I have given my name. However, I would like to address the amendments that the Government have brought forward, which, if accepted, will be a profound change in how we regulate for the environment in this country. To be clear, we are not talking about all water catchments or all houses. We are talking about the most environmentally sensitive sites: those which are home to our curlews, lapwings, and shelducks. These are our internationally and globally significant chalk streams—sites of greatest environmental sensitivity. That is what we are talking about, not the whole country and not all homes.

Here on these Benches, as on other Benches, we recognise the need for more homes. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I took slight exception to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Best. The current situation around nutrient neutrality is not a ban on housebuilding. There is a system whereby, if you wish to build houses in a particular sensitive fresh-water area, you can do so if you buy credits to mitigate the damage you will cause. For example, in Poole harbour, one of our most magnificent sites for wildlife and wetland birds in this country, a proposal came forward to build homes. In 2021, a site of 420 acres was built in Bere Regis to mitigate the damage that would have been caused, and 2,111 homes were built. There is not a ban; there is a system of mitigation where the developers must pay—I will return to this point in a moment—to mitigate the environmental damage they are going to cause.

There may well be problems. It is a system that has been in existence for six years; all of us would accept that it is not perfect. Mitigation credits are not, perhaps, coming on as quickly as they need to. The guidance to local authorities about what is acceptable for mitigation may not be as clear as it needs to be. However, that does not mean that, at the 11th hour, the Government can suddenly throw in an amendment to a Bill. You collaborate; you consult with all the parties; you give adequate parliamentary scrutiny. Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, I am sure Parliament would accept that.

We have heard a lot this afternoon already about a report which we are going to get from the Built Environment Committee. I will give you something from a report we have already had: the report of my committee, the Environment and Climate Change Committee, which has looked this year at how we will meet our 30 by 30 target, to protect our nature which is in such a dire state. We looked at the habitats regulations, which are what the government amendments will amend. We concluded, on a balance of the evidence, that those habitats regulations should be retained. However, we said that if they were going to be subject to amendment, because there were clearly some teething issues with this scheme, then any changes should not be

“subject to amendment without an appropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny or where the protections afforded by the regulations are weakened”.

We can hardly call this process today an appropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny. The Office for Environmental Protection has been clear: these government proposals will weaken regulations. Like the noble Lord, Lord Deben, I am distraught—I think that is the word I would choose—at how the Government have responded to the clear communication by the OEP, which was set up to be the watchdog for the environment in this country.

I have talked about why I think this process today is not the right one. However, there are other people who are being affected: not just local authorities, who are asked to live in an Alice in Wonderland world where, on this in particular, they must ignore the evidence. I want to talk about farmers, because many of us in this Chamber today were with the NFU this morning. It is Back British Farming Day. As BPS is being taken away from farmers, they have been told by this Government to find alternative sources of private income, to undertake environmental work and to keep their incomes up. If the current scheme is lost, whereby farmers bring forward mitigation offerings for which they get paid, then they lose another source of income at a time when BPS is going. To me, that seems wrong, when we must support British farming at this critical time as they move from BPS to the new system of environmental land management schemes—I think the whole House supports that, but we recognise that it will be a tricky time. These amendments will take that money away from farmers now.

Before I finish, I will make another point on polluter pays. I am in 100% agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, says on this. This is a Government which have backed the polluter pays. We sat through the Environment Act, and the Government have proposed that, in November, all Ministers will need to have due regard for the environmental principles policy statement. This gives six principles that Ministers must look at before they bring forward a policy; one of those is the impact of polluter pays. I wonder whether the reason why we have this here today is because it is September, and they did not want to consider something like this further down the line, when the EPPS and the obligation on Ministers to consider polluter pays—which the Government have signed up to—comes into effect.

I am not making a party-political point, but in many respects, what is being proposed here today is not a conservative approach. For many reasons, and certainly on these Benches, we will do all that we can to support affordable housing in the right places, and to support our environment, which desperately needs protection. We will try to vote down these retrograde amendments.

My Lords, I follow the noble Baroness in backing British farming, particularly today with the NFU hospitality earlier. On that note, farmers feel beleaguered, and I think that it is fair to say that upland farmers, where most livestock production takes place, are suffering at this time for the reasons the noble Baroness said. I welcome the words from my noble friend the Minister in presenting the government amendments. She recognises that farmers need help, particularly with slurry treatment and storage, and looking to innovation and new technology, which is very welcome indeed. I think that less welcome will be the 4,000 additional farm inspections, which I am sure will spook a number of farmers.

I take this opportunity to support the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, on her Amendment 247. I shall listen very carefully to what my noble friend the Minister says in her response. It is absolutely right—and goes to the heart of the earlier amendment on SUDS—that we look more to natural flood defences. I repeat my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Water Group, and also as a chair of the experts who looked into a report commissioned by CIWEM, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management. I do not know how else to paraphrase this other than to say that I hope that taking lumps out of waste and using it as a resource to add value is something that the Government will take up in due course. In this whole debate, that will contribute to reducing the impact of sewage.

On the Dutch case, I do not know if it is generally known that in Holland and parts of the UK, such as East Anglia, nitrates appear more naturally in the soil. So if you are contributing to the soil through either farming or sewage, you are increasing the levels of sewage, nutrients and pollution in certain parts of the country. That is something that the Government must be aware of; they should seek to try to limit the damage caused in those ways.

I must ask my noble friend the Minister and others who are committed, as we all are, to the target of 300,000 houses a year why developers are fixated on three-bedroom, four-bedroom and five-bedroom houses. Inevitably, they will contribute three, four or five times more to the wastewater going into our water courses—sometimes with pollution. Why are we not looking to reduce that and, particularly in rural areas, satisfy the need for one-bedroom or two-bedroom houses to help first-time buyers and young people into the property market, as well as older people, including former farmers wishing to come off the land and live in a village or market town?

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, on arguing her amendment so persuasively. I also support my noble friend the Duke of Wellington, with whom I worked in the European Parliament in a previous life, who spoke so powerfully to his amendments —but, as he is aware, they are not the entire solution.

I urge the Government to take their amendments away and work at them in more detail. That is for one simple reason, about which I will end on a note of caution. My noble friend the Duke of Wellington referred to the OEP’s previous letters, but on 12 September it reported on and identified possible failings to comply with existing environmental law in relation to the regulatory oversight of untreated sewage discharges. That relates to Defra, the Environment Agency and Ofwat. I urge my noble friend the Minister to pause the government amendments and not, potentially, break existing environmental law in the way that the Government are preparing to do with the amendments she has put before us.

My Lords, the Minister said, in introducing the amendments, that they were carefully targeted and specific. With great respect to her, she could scarcely have chosen less appropriate adjectives for the Henry VIII clause that she seeks to introduce through Amendment 247YY. It is astonishingly broad, even by modern standards, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope said. To give the House a flavour, it allows the Secretary of State to make any provision that they consider “appropriate” about the operation of any relevant enactment connected to the effects of nutrients and water that could affect a habitat’s site. Relevant enactments include all Acts of Parliament, including the future one we are debating today.

I will add a few other points on that clause to those made by my noble and learned friend. The Delegated Powers Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, has stated that such broad Henry VIII powers must always be fully justified—all the more so, one might think, when they are introduced at the last moment without any public consultation or parliamentary scrutiny. The committee also said that inadequate justification for such exceptionally wide powers had been given and recommended, in terms, that this clause should not form part of the Bill.

The position has not improved since then. The explainer circulated on Monday had nothing to say about the clause at all, although I and others raised it with Ministers last week. In fairness, the Minister said that she had written to the committee today, but the letter did not appear on its website when I checked 10 minutes ago, and I have no reason to suppose that the committee has changed its mind.

We cannot get into the habit of passing clauses such as this one without the clearest and most compelling reasons for them. This clause may have been conceived as a fail-safe in hastily prepared legislation, but its effect is to abdicate the influence of Parliament altogether over substantial and important areas of policy. Why would we sign up to that? The Minister undertook that these delegated powers would be used sparingly, and I do not doubt her good intentions. However, with respect to her, no such undertaking can have any value when the clause will expire not in this Parliament or the next, but in the Parliament after that, on 31 March 2030. I see every reason to follow the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Committee and to vote against the addition of the amendment.

There is a practical, as well as a constitutional, reason why I propose to vote against the amendment. If those who wish to oppose the main amendment—Amendment 247YYA—are successful, they will also need to exclude this clause because, if we do not, the powers that it grants will be quite broad enough to allow the Government simply to reintroduce the substantive measures by secondary legislation, or indeed to do anything else that they might wish to do in this general area, without Parliament having the power to amend it or, in practice, to block it. As I said, that is true not only of this Government but of the next Government and the one after that.

I was relieved to hear that my noble and learned friend Lord Hope will not press his probing amendment, because, as he said, it is inadequate to meet the problems identified by the Delegated Powers Committee. Like him, I am not content with Amendment 247YY and, if it is put to a Division, I will vote to exclude it.

My Lords, I declare my interests in farming as set out in the register. I will add one or two comments to those made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Parminter and Lady McIntosh, on the progress made on nutrient neutrality, its effect on the farming community and the wish not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

It appears that the Government are concerned that the speed of the supply of mitigation options is holding up planning consents. Has the Minister considered the possibility of delaying the requirement for developers to have nutrient mitigation in place to a defined date after build, rather than before building commences, as is currently the case? This would ensure that existing processes and tools are kept in place and not wasted, and that those who have invested in mitigation schemes are not left with stranded assets—for example, many local planning authorities have purchased land and farmers have invested heavily in feasibility and planning works. In maintaining the emphasis on requiring developers to fund the measures, the essence is that the polluter must pay.

My Lords, briefly, I associate myself with the remarks made in a very fine speech by my noble friend Lord Deben. We entered the other place on the same day, in June 1970—I have been here continuously since, and my noble friend was briefly absent from the other place for a year or so. I think that we both feel exactly the same: a deep sense of shame that the Conservative Party should behave like this. I thought that I had got over feeling ashamed after the two last disastrous Conservative Prime Ministers. I have a great feeling of support for our present Prime Minister, but I am deeply saddened. It must be because he does not have the long parliamentary experience to see how Parliament should be treated by the Executive. This is no way to legislate.

On this extraordinary Bill, I pay genuine tribute to the stamina and energy of my noble friend the Minister. If anyone ever drew a short straw, she drew a whole packet full and got one free. She has behaved impeccably, but she has been landed with something that no Minister should be landed with: a Bill, at its very last stage, being added to in such a way without proper consultation or discussion.

This does not need to part of this Bill. If the Government believe there is a problem over house building and the environment, it can bring in another Bill in the King’s Speech that can have a proper Second Reading in the other place. It will not get scrutiny in the other place; Bills do not get it there these days. It could then go through all the necessary processes and be through before the end of the next parliamentary session.

This is just not right: a Christmas tree Bill effectively giving unlimited and unfettered powers to a future Secretary of State—not a Minister of State or an Under-Secretary—who will be able to do things without the full, proper approval of Parliament and who will have, effectively, an unfettered right to meddle and interfere, and all this just two years after the Environment Bill, one of the few Bills of this Parliament in which one could take any real degree of pride. That was, in no small measure, due to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. His amendment went into the Bill, and we were all delighted that it did. This House improved that Bill. Now, with a series of late amendments, we are undoing the good that was done two years ago. This is something up with which we should not put.