House of Lords
Monday 27 March 2023
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.
Occupied Palestinian Territories
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the recent transfer of governance powers in parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories from Israeli military authorities to Israeli civilian ministries, and (2) the implications of this transfer for securing a lasting peace in the region.
My Lords, as the occupying power in the West Bank, Israel’s presence is governed by the provisions of the Geneva convention, and we call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law. We are still examining the consequences of the recent transfer of some governance powers in the Israeli Ministry of Defense related to the occupation. The UK remains of the belief that there is no better alternative than a two-state solution for peace and for realising the national aspirations of both the Palestinians and Israelis.
I thank the Minister for his response. However, in the negotiation of the recent trade deal with Israel, which, according to the Prime Minister, was based on the common values of democracy, what assurances did the UK Government seek from the Netanyahu Government over compliance with international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the avowed intent of the Netanyahu Government to remove democratic safeguards by emasculating the judiciary, in the face of massive opposition from Israeli citizens? What assurances did they receive?
As noble Lords will know, our Prime Minister spoke to Mr Netanyahu just a few days ago as part of the development of the road map. The road map does not in any way change our support for a two-state solution. Our position on the settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law, they present an obstacle to peace and they threaten the physical viability of a two-state solution. Our position is reflected in our continued support for UN Security Council Resolution 2334.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, last week, a Minister in the Netanyahu Government opined that the Palestinians are neither a people nor a nation? Is that the view of His Majesty’s Government? If not, did that view get communicated by the Prime Minister to Prime Minister Netanyahu when he saw him? Also, what line did the Prime Minister take on the intention of the present Israeli Government to expand the scale of illegal settlements?
My Lords, the remarks that the noble Lord refers to absolutely do not reflect the position of the UK Government and nor, I believe, do they reflect the view of the vast majority of people in Israel. High-level members of the current Government there have found themselves having to speak out on the same issue.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register, particularly those relating to friendship with Israel. Does my noble friend agree with the sentiments of Golda Meir, who said that it is very difficult to negotiate with people who are trying to kill you? Looking for a secure and lasting peace in the region, does my noble friend think it would be sensible for the Palestinian Authority to cease the “pay to slay” policy whereby Palestinians are rewarded financially for the murder of an Israeli, whether it is an army officer or a child?
My Lords, I fully subscribe to the comments my noble friend quotes. It is very hard to negotiate if one side does not believe that you have the right to exist, and it is clear from the security situation today that things are particularly fragile. Last year, a very large number of Palestinians and Israelis were killed by acts of violence, and 2023 started the same way. We are all appalled by the recent terror attacks near Jerusalem that killed two Israelis, and the attack on Sunday 26 February, which killed two Israelis on the West Bank. We condemn these attacks, as we do all such attacks, in the strongest possible terms, and we condemn the glorification of violence that so often happens among those in Gaza.
Does the Minister acknowledge that for years, if not decades, Ministers in his position on that Front Bench have reiterated support for a two-state solution and opposition to illegal settlement by the Israelis in the Palestinian territories? Can he confirm that there has been no progress whatsoever on either of those fronts in all the time that Ministers have been expressing those wishes and desires? Does he further agree that there is a diminishing prospect of any kind of two-state solution so long as the illegal Israeli occupation of parts of Palestinian territory continues?
My Lords, the UK’s long-standing position on the Middle East peace process is clear and remains clear. We support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders, with equal land swaps to reflect the national security and religious interests of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. That is our position and always has been our position.
Regarding the settlements, there too our position remains unchanged. We want to see a contiguous West Bank, including east Jerusalem, as part of a viable sovereign Palestinian state, based on those same 1967 lines. We recognise that many such settlements are contrary to international law.
In his Answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, the Minister said that the occupation should be governed by the Geneva convention and that the question of whether the transfer from military to civilian rule contravened or agreed with the convention was still being examined. When that examination has taken place, will the Minister kindly put the result in the Library?
My Lords, previously the Foreign Office indicated that it would not engage at ministerial or official level with Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich—the Minister referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. In a recent debate, the noble Lord the Minister said from the Dispatch Box that we would now engage with them and all Ministers in the Israeli Government, so why has there been this change of approach? Also recently, the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, the Trade Minister, said that human rights will not now be part of trade agreements. So can the noble Lord answer my noble friend’s Question and confirm that British Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have stated that the long-held protection for the illegally occupied territories in trade relations with the UK will be maintained in a specific chapter in any Israel-UK FTA?
The noble Lord asked a lot of questions and I doubt whether I will be able to answer them all. In both this House and the other House, the UK has repeatedly and strongly condemned the comments of the Israeli Finance Minister, who, as the noble Lord will know, called for the Palestinian village of Huwara to be “wiped out”. We condemn his recent comments, which deny the very existence of the Palestinian people, their right to self-determination, their history and their culture. The UK has been unequivocal in its condemnation of that language.
My Lords, I was in the West Bank last week and I talked to Palestinians. They said—and this was supported by surveys—that they no longer believe in the two-state solution. They saw what happened in Gaza, they do not trust their leadership and they want the advantage that Israeli benefits in health and so on can give them. Now is perhaps the time for the FCDO to lead the way and come up with a more imaginative solution, possibly modelled on the United Kingdom, where we have separate Governments for separate countries, because the two-state solution is a very long way away.
My noble friend is vastly more knowledgeable about and qualified to speak about this issue than I am, and he makes a fascinating contribution. The reality is that, wherever things end up, a prerequisite has to be the cessation of terrorism and violence on both sides.
My Lords, in last week’s exchanges on the road map for future relationships with Israel, the Foreign Secretary also met with Eli Cohen, the Israeli Foreign Minister. The Foreign Office said that the recent spike in violence would be discussed, so can the Minister tell us what the outcome of those discussions was and whether any practical steps were agreed to support de-escalation?
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give details on the nature of the exchange; I will have to get back to the noble Lord with that information. However, I do know that the concerns that both sides of this House have raised were raised in strong terms by both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in their respective discussions.
Charitable Sector: Food Provision
My Lords, food banks are an example of the generosity of spirt of giving across communities in Britain. This Government are committed to understanding and addressing poverty. Last week, for the first time, we published official estimates of food bank use. This April, we are increasing benefits and benefit cap levels by 10.1% and making further cost of living payments. The Government have provided total support of more than £94 billion over 2022-23 and 2023-24.
I thank the noble Lord for this Answer. One of the real concerns about the increase in the use of food banks—which has gone up phenomenally, by a third in the last year—is that they are being used more by the working poor: people in full-time employment who still cannot afford to feed their families and heat their homes. Is it not time for the Government to be even more creative than they have been already and perhaps introduce a wealth tax of 1% on the richest, so there can be pay rises for the poorest workers?
Well, it is helpful to have some innovative solutions from the noble Baroness, but she will know of the huge amount of support that we have given, of which the House is very aware. There are other measures as well: for example, the Government will provide £100 million of support for charities and community organisations in England. This will be targeted towards those organisations most at risk due to the increased demand from vulnerable groups, and targeted in particular to support critical front-line services.
My Lords, the Trussell Trust recently piloted a study for the APPG on ending the need for food banks on the provision of cash grants instead of food handouts: 94% of the recipients preferred cash to food and said that their finances improved as a result. The survey showed that the cash was used to buy only essential items. What are the Government doing to promote cash responses to local crises?
My Lords, I do congratulate the Government on all the work that they have done in this area to try to help the most disadvantaged. I know that my noble friend cares deeply about these issues. Of course, the working poor have a real need, but can my noble friend tell the House what evidence there is that pensioners are using food banks, and what action the Government are taking to address pensioner poverty?
My noble friend will not be surprised to hear me say that we are committed to action that helps alleviate levels of pensioner poverty. In answer to one of her questions, the HBAI statistics recorded that fewer than 100,000 pensioners were living in households where a food bank had been used. However, despite those figures, there is more to do.
The figures show that there are 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty than in 2009-10. Pension credit provides a vital financial support to pensioners. This is one of the actions that has been and is being taken by the Government, and it is proving to be very successful, with a 73% uptake in the last 12 months.
My Lords, I am delighted that we are now asking about food bank use in the annual HBAI survey. That is great. But the results are really pretty shocking. For example, they showed that one in six of all people on universal credit used a food bank in the last financial year. When we think that, in the first half of that year, universal credit was £20 higher, furlough was still in place, inflation was 4% and energy bills were half what they are now, it begins to show the scale of the problem.
On 9 January, I asked the Minister what the Government were going to do about the shocking increase in food banks. He said that they needed to know more. Now that they do, what will they do about it?
First, I welcome the noble Baroness back. It is good to see her in her place. To pick up on what she was saying, our newly published statistics on food bank use, alongside the broad suite of poverty data, will indeed help us to shape future policy considerations. There is much in these statistics—some good, some less good—and I assure the noble Baroness that we will look very carefully at them and use them to help us inform and impact on our policies.
Yes, I can certainly follow that up. The noble Baroness will be aware that there is a very strong link with the housing support that I say that “we” but in fact local authorities are giving through the DHPs. There is certainly more that we can do to work even more closely with the local authorities in this respect.
My Lords, 80% of our churches currently support food banks. The Food 4 Thought Alliance was set up to respond to the immediate needs of people in Derby at the start of the Covid pandemic. It reports a 30% increase, already mentioned here, in the distribution of food parcels since last year.
The National Farmers’ Union cautioned last year that we were
“sleepwalking into a food supply crisis”.
What is being done to ensure that problems with supply chains do not push yet more people to rely on food banks?
The right reverend Prelate is right. We recognise that charities and community organisations have been hit by a triple threat of rising demand, rising costs and declining income over recent months. I applaud the role the Church plays in this respect. I am also very aware of the rising costs of certain food items from places such as Morocco and Spain due to climate change. But the funding we are giving broadly supplements the intervention to support households and businesses. The Government also support some of these vulnerable groups through other funding, such as through DLUHC.
My Lords, have the Government considered properly the role of the social supermarket? I speak as the chair of Feeding Britain. We have opened 260 of them, which you join as a club. You can then shop at around 30% to 40% off in the pound. You also get taught to cook and you get community help, which has been so stripped out over the years of austerity. For instance, in the Wirral, where I was on Friday, we have six such social supermarkets. Every Monday they have an adviser on benefits. In the course of 18 months, 1 million quid has been returned to people because they do not understand the complexities of the benefit system. These set-ups work to put back things that used to be in before the age of austerity. Will the Minister agree to come and look at one with me and consider how the Government can take them forward?
I would certainly be very pleased to join the noble Baroness to look at social supermarkets. She will be aware that the main supermarkets do offer some help in this respect. For example, Morrisons offers an average 13% price cut on more than 500 goods, including eggs, beef and rice. Children get a free meal at Morrisons cafés when their parent buys an adult meal worth £4.99.
My Lords, how convinced are the Government that the data on food bank use reflects the number of those who would genuinely go hungry without them? About one-third of all food is wasted, with the UK a leading culprit internationally. Increased use of food banks therefore also underlines the need to cut food waste, which we have heard already. How can we better redistribute food that is reaching its sell-by date to those most in need?
The figures that have just come out help us with a regional focus. For example, 4% of households in the north-east and north-west use a food bank, which is 1% higher than the average for households in England. To answer my noble friend’s question on food waste, we support a broad and holistic approach, with £2.7 million per annum grant funding to the Waste and Resources Action Programme. Crucially included in this programme is the food waste reduction road map and the push for food businesses to follow this tool to target, measure and act on waste, including to redistribute more. It is very important to make the connection between where there might be waste, particularly with foods at their sell-by date, and distributing to those most in need.
This question has cropped up before in this House. I deeply regret the anecdotal evidence that we have of those in the NHS who are minded to go to, or need to go to, food banks. It is certainly something that the Government are very aware of and are looking to take action on in a number of ways.
Children’s School Meals
My Lords, the school food standards regulate for food and drink provided at lunchtime and at other times of the school day. They restrict foods high in fat, salt and sugar. We believe that the current standards provide a robust yet flexible framework to ensure that pupils in England continue to receive high-quality and nutritious food that builds healthy eating habits for life. We are keeping the standards under review, including the use of sugar and sugar alternatives.
I am grateful to the Minister for saying that the Government are keeping it under review. Is she aware that we have the unhealthiest children in Europe? If the regulations are working, why is that the case? If she accepts that fact, will she go back and speak to the her department and the Department of Health and see whether we can get some progress along the lines of what happens in the Netherlands, where the producers and the Government come together to look at food reformulation, giving children healthier food and getting away from the inevitable decline, which we are suffering, into more obesity and type 2 diabetes?
I do recognise the figures to which the noble Lord refers with regard to the level of obesity—particularly shocking, perhaps, in our primary age children. The noble Lord will be aware that in 2019 we brought together a group of stakeholders to look at updating the standards. That was postponed for understandable reasons during Covid but my right honourable friend the Minister for School Standards is now looking at this very actively.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that nearly 1,600 children in England and Wales are suffering from type 2 diabetes—a disease that causes inflammation throughout the body and, if not treated properly, can cause kidney failure, heart attacks and other diseases in later life—and that a high proportion of these children come from the lower demographic groups? Can the Minister really say, hand on heart, that the Government are doing everything they can to address the shortcomings of the diets of poorer children in our society?
The Government have made a great deal of progress in this area, which is not to say that there is not more to do. The noble Baroness will be familiar with the so-called sugar tax, which has led to a decrease of almost half in the amount of sugar in soft drinks between 2015 and 2020. Most recently, we introduced regulations restricting the location of products with high fat, salt and sugar in supermarkets, which is critical in making sure that children do not access those foods.
My Lords, one-quarter of two to 15 year-olds are obese or overweight. Despite Governments publishing 14 obesity strategies containing 689 policies between 1992 and 2020, the prevalence has not reduced. Does my noble friend accept that, unless radical changes are made to support healthier eating habits, the increasing rates of obesity and related diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are likely to break the NHS?
The Government continue to take a number of steps. The point I would make to my noble friend—she understands this better than I do—is that obesity is a fantastically complicated problem caused by a number of different factors, of which calorie intake is, obviously, one part, but activity is another. That is why we were so pleased to confirm recently the £600 million for the PE and sport premium for primary schools over the next two years.
My Lords, the Minister is probably aware of figures released last week, which showed that, in the early 1950s, the UK had one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Recent figures suggest that we are now 29th in the league table. Only the US is performing worse in comparative terms than the UK, largely because of diet problems. Can the Minister assure me that, in taking forward the work that she has just mentioned, the education sector will recognise that it has to work very hard with the health sector to develop huge programmes of health improvement embracing young people?
My Lords, just to correct the Minister, all new science shows that it is calorie intake of the wrong kind, such as in ultra-processed food, that causes obesity. While exercise keeps you healthy, it does not take off weight unless you are prepared to run a marathon every day. One thing the Government could do if they are serious about this is to extend the salary limit at which you can get free school meals. Currently, you have to be on universal credit, earning under £7,500—that is fantastically little—before your child gets a healthy, decent meal once a day—made up, ideally, of decent ingredients. Can the Government look at this again?
As the noble Baroness knows, we keep the eligibility for free school meals under constant review, but the House is also aware that eligibility for free school meals has never been higher. This Government introduced universal infant free school meals and free school meals in further education. Now, in schools, 1.9 million of the most disadvantaged pupils are eligible for free school meals.
My Lords, demonising fat is the wrong attitude. Clearly, we need to avoid saturated fats but other fats are actually good for us and limit obesity, because when fat goes into the duodenum it releases hormones that inhibit the emptying of the stomach, giving us the feeling of being full, so we stop eating. Fat should not be demonised by the Department of Health or anyone else.
I am not aware that anyone is demonising fat, but there is a very serious issue about education. The percentage of children who are either overweight or obese rose very sharply during lockdown. We must absolutely do everything we can in our schools and health services. We also need to make sure that parents really understand the implications of what they feed their children.
My Lords, last year research from Imperial College found that ultra-processed foods accounted for 62% of the calories in school meals. Given the widespread obesity epidemic in our schools—that the Minister recognises has got worse since lockdown—and an NHS buckling under demand it can no longer meet, can the Minister tell the House when the Government will next update the current school food standards to include guidance on ultra-processed foods and other foods that could be contributing to the obesity epidemic?
Just to make sure that I have not confused the House, levels of obesity and children who are overweight rose very sharply during lockdown. Levels have come back, depending on the age group, to pretty much where they were pre lockdown—I just say that for clarity. I cannot say when the standards might be reviewed, but they are designed to give those in schools, and those supplying schools with school food, enough flexibility to make choices to give children healthy meals. As we heard in an earlier Question, there is also an opportunity here to make sure that we keep waste to an absolute minimum, so that the investment can go into the quality of food for children.
My Lords, the findings of the House of Lords Select Committee report Hungry for Change found that to pay for government healthy eating recommendations, the poorest 10% of UK households would need to spend 74% of their post-housing disposable income on food. The report also found that the cost of healthy eating did not factor in the calculation of benefit rates. Would the Minister urge her colleagues in government to make sure that realistic benefit rates pay for a healthy diet, even for the poorest people?
I am more than happy to share those figures on benefit rates with my noble friend sitting next to me on the Front Bench. More seriously, there are so many variables in this. I remind the House of the scale of support that this Government have given every household over 2022-23 and 2023-24: an average of over £3,300 per UK household.
We are pleased that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has found in favour of the Government in Shamima Begum’s appeal against the decision to deprive her of British citizenship. It would be inappropriate to comment further, given the potential for further legal proceedings. The Government’s priority remains maintaining the safety and security of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered response. I think we all know the circumstances: Shamima Begum was a 15 year-old child when, seduced by a perverted ideology, she ran away from home and ended up as the consort of an ISIS terrorist and, eventually, the mother of three dead babies. Now 25 years of age, her situation has changed since she was deprived of her British citizenship in 2019. Her provisional Bangladeshi citizenship lapsed when she reached the age of 21 and she is now stateless. I would like to ask two questions. First, what consideration has been given to her present situation, as of today? Secondly, does the Minister’s response suggest that security fears trump our moral responsibilities?
I thank the noble and right reverend Lord for his questions. The answer is that in relation to Shamima Begum, as I indicated in my earlier Answer, due to the fact that the litigation may continue I am unable to comment specifically on the facts of that case. However, I can answer more generally that the power to deprive an individual of their British citizenship, as happened in this case, has existed in law for over 100 years. The British Nationality Act allows for the deprivation power to be exercised in two circumstances: first, where the Secretary of State considers that it is conducive to the public good to deprive that person of their British citizenship, generally on national security grounds; and, secondly, in relation to Section 40(3), if British nationality has been obtained by fraud. This power is exercised sparingly and obviously, given the national security nature of these decisions, the content of them is the subject of closed proceedings. It is therefore a matter for particularly careful consideration by the Secretary of State and that was certainly done in the instant case.
My Lords, may I press my noble friend on the security aspect? If we continue to refuse citizenship and refuse to put on trial alleged UK terrorists here in this country, are we not just passing the buck to other countries? If every country pursues the same policy, are we not just going to build up vast and insecure camps full of potential terrorists—the breeding ground for the terrorists of tomorrow?
I thank my noble friend for that question. Of course it is not the case, as the noble and right reverend Lord put in his Question, that Shamima Begum’s citizenship was refused. In fact, her citizenship was deprived from her by reason of the decision of the Secretary of State, which was reviewed by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and upheld. I do not agree with my noble friend that there is a risk of large camps of people being accrued who had been deprived of their nationality. If I might provide the figures, in 2019 some 27 people were deprived of their nationality; in 2020, it was 10; and, in 2021, it was eight.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti asked a Question last week relating to the British Government’s position over the use of capital punishment. Widespread comments from all sides of the House indicated that we had no truck with it whatever; quite right too. Since the Minister is not able to comment on a current case—and I respect that—could he ask himself, and assure the House, whether statelessness is not a form of capital punishment, in the sense that it deprives somebody of status forever? If it is for the rest of their lives, is that not just the breathing dead, so should we not be opposed to it on moral grounds and let circumstances dictate what might happen to her if she were brought back? Leaving her where she is is surely inhumane.
Clearly, the Secretary of State for the Home Office has to evaluate the balance of competing interests. Surely the principal interest and the principal duty of government is to keep the people safe. I can reassure the noble Lord that the United Kingdom takes very seriously its obligations under the UN statelessness convention. Decisions to deprive individuals are taken in circumstances where they would not be left stateless. This applies in all cases where decisions to deprive are made. In all cases, there is further detailed consideration as to the applicability of Articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to deprivation decisions. The Government are satisfied that all those deprivations have been actions which are compatible with our obligations under that convention.
My Lords, would my noble friend reflect that, if a 15 year-old child commits a murder in this country, they remain anonymous? We do not know the name of the person, and he or she is dealt with appropriately. Is that not rather in contradiction to the line that has been taken in this case?
The slight difficulty the noble Lord has is, obviously, the incomplete picture of information, which is, unfortunately, the consequence of the nature of these types of decisions. The evaluation is made at the time of the deprivation decision, which in this case was in 2019. At that stage, the subject of the decision was not a minor, but obviously I cannot venture further into the facts of the case.
The reform of the Prevent strategy is clearly an important priority, as discussed on a previous occasion. I do not believe that this particular case has any direct impact on the reformulation of the policy. If the litigation continues, I will come back and address the House further on that.
My Lords, I wonder if noble Lords remember the expression “compassionate conservatism”. Those halcyon days seem long gone, sadly. Shamima Begum has been variously described as a vulnerable, trafficked 15 year-old from Bethnal Green and an ex-IS recruiter. Is the point not, however, that she is our vulnerable, trafficked girl or our ex-IS recruiter? Should she not be brought home to face the music in a British court of law?
Again, I am afraid I cannot comment on the specific facts of Ms Begum’s case. However, I remind the House that the purpose of deprivation proceedings under Section 40(2) of the 1981 Act is to protect the country in relation to issues of national security.
My Lords, the difficulty the UK had being able to prosecute British people who went to Syria to support ISIS led in part to the counterterrorism Act 2019 and its provisions to prohibit people going to designated terrorist hotspots. Are the Government confident that future circumstances similar to Shamima Begum’s would fall under the provisions of that Act and enable prosecution in the UK?
Clearly, it is a very fact-sensitive evaluation on what is an appropriate matter for prosecution. The issue as to whether to deprive someone of British nationality arises in very limited circumstances, as seen in the numbers I cited earlier to the House. I would hope that all the relevant factors are taken into account when making such decisions.
My Lords, Shamima Begum admitted on the BBC podcast that she willingly chose to join a barbaric, nihilistic, Islamic death cult, so I am not sure about compassion. However, the Minister said that the responsibility is to keep citizens safe. Is he suggesting that the Government cannot keep people safe when there is radicalisation happening in the UK? One reason why the public do not want Ms Begum here is that, after the Manchester Arena bombing report, it seems that the Prison Service and the secret services are not able to keep us safe. Would he say that that is our problem and we should bring her home and not wash our hands of her, not because of compassion but because of moral responsibility on our part to keep people safe, even if there are terrorists among us?
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. The answer is that, obviously, the primary duty of government is to keep the people safe. Parliament has seen fit to afford to the Secretary of State the power of deprivation of nationality on dual nationals, and that power has sensibly been exercised in the cases to which I have referred and on which I have given the numbers to the House. I do not believe that there is any greater moral equivalence in returning people for trial. The question that arises on the exercise of this power is the issue of national security.
Black and Minority-ethnic Children: Police Strip-searches
Private Notice Question
To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Children’s Commissioner showing that 2,847 children, disproportionately from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, have been strip searched by the police since 2018.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her Question. The Children’s Commissioner’s report raises a number of concerns that we take extremely seriously. Strip-search is one of the most intrusive powers available to the police. No one should be subject to the use of any police power based on their race or ethnicity. The IOPC is currently investigating several instances of children being strip-searched and it will review whether existing legislation, guidance and policies remain appropriate. It is right that we await its findings.
My Lords, it is sickening, shocking and truly disturbing to read the Children’s Commissioner’s report on the thousands of children who have been strip-searched by the police unsupervised. Most of us thought that being strip-searched was a rare occurrence during the Child Q scandal. This has proven not to be so. Worryingly, those from black and ethnic-minority backgrounds appear to be disproportionately targeted. Childhood lasts a lifetime. The mental trauma, mistrust, abuse and humiliation suffered by these children will stay with them, at a huge cost to society. How are the Government going to address this unacceptable and despicable practice? What recourse and disciplinary action will there be when a safeguarding failure is found to have taken place?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. Any child subject to strip-search under PACE should be accompanied by an appropriate adult unless there is an urgent risk of serious harm or where the child specifically requests otherwise and the appropriate adult agrees. Such searches must be carried out by an officer of the same sex as the child. The Children Act 2004 encourages agencies to share early concerns about the safety and welfare of children and young persons and to take preventive action. The Act requires local policing bodies and chief officers to co-operate with arrangements to improve the well-being of children in the authorities’ area. It is too early for me to comment on what sort of disciplinary processes and so on might be implemented in cases where there are failures of these things. As I said, we are awaiting the report from the IOPC and will make the appropriate response in due course.
My Lords, it seems that every week there are more devastating revelations for trust in policing in our country, and yet the Public Order Bill is still moving between the two Houses—it will come back to us tomorrow. The Bill contains, among other things, stop and search powers, including without suspicion. At the very least, those provisions in the Public Order Bill should be paused by the Government until they can assess what police regulation we need, as opposed to just endless extra police power.
My Lords, as I have said from this Dispatch Box before, stop and search makes a serious difference to crime prevention. In 2021-22, stop and search removed around 14,900 weapons and firearms from our streets and resulted in almost 67,000 arrests. The noble Baroness made good points about trust in the police, and the Home Secretary has been clear that policing needs to address all of the causes of poor, and in some cases toxic, cultures. That will be a key focus of part 2 of the independent Angiolini inquiry, which will consider issues in policing such as vetting, recruitment and culture, as well as the safety of women in public places.
My Lords, could my noble friend the Minister clarify the role of the IOPC here? Is it reviewing just individual cases—so there will be a number of reports—or is this a systemic review of the use of this practice? Only if we look at the system can we know whether there is potentially racial bias within it.
My noble friend is right. At the start of the process, 14 referrals involving strip-searches were received by the IOPC from the Metropolitan Police Service. On 1 August 2022, it confirmed that it is investigating five of these cases. It decided that six of them were suitable for local investigation by the force, and the remaining three are still being assessed to determine whether further action may be required by the IOPC. However, the IOPC has been asked to take a more general look at the framework. We expect its findings soon, and for it to opine a little more widely.
The noble and learned Baroness is absolutely correct that there has been a large number of these cases. Our problem with intervention is that data has only recently started to be collected on this. As I said, there is a great deal of incoming input, and it is appropriate to wait for that to make sure that we are properly informed.
My Lords, I want to follow on from the noble and learned Baroness’s question. Would it not be sensible for the Home Office to require all police forces in England to discontinue any further participation in Safer School Partnerships and to withdraw Safer School officers from schools until the very laudable review is completed?
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chair of the Children’s Society. I join other noble Lords in expressing horror at the findings of the Children’s Commissioner’s report. It is vital that children are treated as children at all times. Can the Minister reassure the House that children are treated and recognised as children within every aspect of the criminal justice system?
In areas where the Home Office collects data—for example, on custody—I can reassure the House that that is the case. For example, in 99% of cases where searches involved children in custody, an appropriate adult was present. Obviously, this report has identified failings in other parts of the system. We are awaiting the right inputs in order to make a detailed and thoughtful review, and as soon as that is the case I am sure I will be able to give the right reverend Prelate more broad reassurance.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that it is rarely proportionate for the police to strip-search a child, let alone 2,847 times since 2018? Is the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, not right when she says that the whole regime of police stop and search needs a hard reset?
Would the Minister care to reanswer his noble friend who asked the question about the role of the IOPC? It sounds as though it is checking a couple of dozen cases, and that is not good enough, given what the commissioner’s report has identified. Surely we need a review of all the cases, because there have been dozens a week over the years. The answer that the Minister gave on the role of the IOPC is not sufficient.
My Lords, I am absolutely gutted to hear the Minister respond to a question by saying that there must have been some reason. I am a child protection officer and have been a long-standing social worker, so I am all too aware of the issues around safeguarding—as the noble Lord should be, as a Home Office Minister. Can he say that he is either waiting for the review or that he has already taken the decision that there must have been a reason? It is either one or the other; it cannot possibly be both. I will make another point. Given what the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, surely everything leads to the conclusion from the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, that racial discrimination is endemic in the Met. Can the Minister answer?
I have to correct the record, because I did not say that there “must” be a reason; I said that I assumed that there was a good reason. To be absolutely clear, that is very different. I agree with many of the conclusions that the Children’s Commissioner has come up with—they seem to make a great deal of sense to me—but I would prefer to wait for the context of the various reviews that are being undertaken at the moment before giving a further opinion on this matter.
My Lords, will the Minister pay tribute to Dame Rachel de Souza, who is a superb commissioner and was also an iconic head and founder of the Inspiration Trust in Norfolk? She is saying that, while this type of strip-search should not be banned, it should be looked at very carefully. One of the things she said was that strip-search should never take place in schools but always in police stations.
I thank my noble friend for that. I am extremely happy to pay tribute to Dame Rachel de Souza for her report, which strikes me as very comprehensive—although I confess to having read only part of it so far. I agree with some of her conclusions, as I have just said, and I think that the one about schools is an entirely appropriate conclusion to have reached. In my opinion, strip-searches should be conducted only in very safe and secure places.
My Lords, one of the report’s conclusions was that there were widely differing practices in stop and search and strip-searches across the country. Does the Minister believe that there are good examples of stop and search and strip-search, and what can the Government use from those examples? Is it not right that particular communities—I am talking about young black men—have very little trust in the police service, and that it does not take much for things to kick off and for the police to use further interventions which are wholly undesirable as a result of the original police intervention?
I certainly agree with the noble Lord’s last point; that is a significant issue for the police and for us all. It relates to so many other issues that we deal with on a daily basis regarding the police, including things that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has brought up in previous debates, such as recruitment and so on. Regarding strip-search, I argue that, where the rules are followed, which are pretty clear and rigorous, it could be appropriate under certain circumstances. However, there needs to be an appropriate adult present, and there are complications around that, including making sure that there are enough of them. The other rules and safeguards that are already in place need to be followed.
My Lords, it is absolutely right and true that the Government should never interfere with operational policing, but the Government can recommend that the guidelines are actually followed. That is the big problem we have here: there were no appropriate adults in 52% of the cases. In 51% of the cases, children were strip-searched in police vans, schools and even fast-food restaurants. I think that the Government have a role here to say that guidelines are there to be followed.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that strip-searching would be humiliating for any of us. It is particularly humiliating for a child. The Minister has indicated that there are rules that govern strip-searching, but the rules have not been followed in many of these cases. Let us not wait for a review. The rules operate now, today, everywhere. It is the responsibility of the Home Office to ensure that these rules are complied with. Will the Minister take this away with a degree of urgency to make sure that these rules are applied now, everywhere?
My Lords, for the benefit of those of us who have not yet been able to read the report, will the Minister tell the House what proportion of those nearly 3,000 children who were strip-searched during that period were charged with any offence?
My Lords, I add my voice to those saying that we understand about the review—there will be lessons to be learned from the reviews and rules to be updated. But can my noble friend the Minister say why the Home Secretary could not write to all chief constables now to ensure that PACE rules are being enforced and adhered to very closely?
My Lords, less than a third of the cases referred to in the ombudsman’s report—31%—led to an arrest. Does the Minister agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, when she said that strip-searching as done by the Met was an example of
“over-policing and disproportionate use of powers against certain communities”
and may be due to
“‘adultification’, where Black children are treated as adults and as a threat, therefore justifying greater use of force or intrusive interventions.”
Those were her words. Does the Minister agree with them?
I am not going to agree or disagree with those words. The noble Baroness, Lady Casey, delivered them in good faith, and I take her word in good faith. I think a lot more thought needs to go into all the various recommendations that have been made in the various reviews, many of which I happily acknowledge raise a number of very serious issues that demand urgent attention.
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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Committee (8th Day)
Relevant documents: 24th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 12th Report from the Constitution Committee
Amendment 184 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
184ZA: After Clause 85, insert the following new Clause—
Local nature recovery strategies(1) A local planning authority must ensure that their development plan (taken as a whole) incorporates such policies and proposals so as to deliver the objectives of the local nature recovery strategy.(2) Any policies or proposals in subsection (1) must be consistent with the proper exercise of the authority’s plan making functions.”Member's explanatory statement
This new Clause sets out the relationship between local nature recovery strategies (LNRSs) and statutory development plans to ensure LNRSs objectives are delivered and aligned with development plans. This is to help secure implementation of Environment Act requirements.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 184ZA and 242I, which are in my name and in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Willis of Summertown and Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, cannot be in her place today as she has tested positive for Covid; she is sorry she cannot be here to add strength to the weight of the case.
The point of these two amendments is to do the job that local nature recovery strategies need to do—as the Government set out in their Environment Act in only 2021—which is to help restore our much-depleted nature. As the strategies currently stand, they will not be able to do that unless they are given further significant weight in the planning processes. As we all know, nature is all about place; it is a spatial matter, so we need to protect the areas where our birds, species and ecosystems are placed. For noble Lords who are not familiar with local nature recovery strategies, I explain that they are a new requirement of the Environment Act which are due to come into place next month. They are spatial plans across England that will help us to identify where places are special in terms of biodiversity and habitats, to put together policies to enable us to protect areas, and to encourage our local authorities to build protection into their plans. There are about 40 of them across England, mainly at the county level. As local authorities currently need only to have regard to them rather than take account of them, there is a real danger they will not be able to do the job we need them to do. This is a job that the Office for Environmental Protection said earlier this year was essential because the Government are not delivering at the speed and the level we need them to in order to protect our environment.
All of us in this Chamber—particularly those of us who have been local councillors—know that when push comes to shove, nature often gets pushed aside if there is a planning application for a housing development or some other form of infrastructure. We need these local nature recovery strategies, which are done principally at the county level, to have some purchase on the unitary, district and borough plans of councils, as they seek to ensure that our areas meet the needs of local people and protect our nature at the same time. This amendment is needed because currently local authorities need only to have regard to these principally county-level plans. I think the plans will probably take a year or two to come into force, so there is time for us to get this right.
However, I acknowledge that the plans for county councils and other groups which will be drawing the local nature recovery strategies together were produced last week. For those of us who have had the chance to review that guidance to the local authorities, there are some significant concerns about what is being proposed. I know that we as a House will have our chance to say something on that, because a statutory instrument will have to come forward. This is the guidance to the county councils that will be bringing the local nature recovery strategies together. They will be bringing together different landowners and local people to pull all these elements together so that there is an agreed sense of what, on a landscape scale, our priorities for the future are. Bringing people together as part of that job is really important. It is also important that the plans are evidenced. It is extremely good news that Natural England is going to resource each one of these local nature recovery strategies with a policy officer in support so that the evidence is there, because we have to make sure that these are evidence-led.
So what do these amendments do? They seek to say, effectively, that each of the local plans has to take full account of the local nature recovery strategies—that the local nature recovery strategies have to be a key base of the evidence for their development plans and have to be specifically referenced in them. The amendment does three things. First, it puts a responsibility on local authorities to embed and incorporate the policies and proposals in the local nature recovery strategies in their development plans, so that the objectives of the strategies can be delivered. Secondly, it says that the guidance which the Government have said they will produce for local authorities—the districts, the unitaries, the boroughs—should make it clear to them how they must deliver on the new responsibility that the amendment would put in place. Thirdly, and as importantly, it says that local authorities must report back on how they have delivered the objectives of the local nature recovery strategies. That is important, because we know that, in anything, what is measured matters. So it is important that there is clear feedback about what has been incorporated.
Equally, as I said earlier, these local nature recovery strategies are not just about bringing stakeholders such as landowners and local authorities together; they are about bringing local people together. If the local people put all this work in to produce these strategies and are then ignored, it will further undermine confidence in local government and its ability to deliver for local environments, which all of us know is really important. So the second of the two amendments makes it absolutely clear that there must be a report back on how local authorities have delivered on the local nature recovery strategies. That is important for nature and for people.
I hope the Government think that these are helpful amendments. In the Environment Act, the Government were very clear. They have brought forward a number of new mechanisms—biodiversity net gain, local nature recovery strategies and ELMS—to start finding new ways to ensure that we can start to reverse the tide of decline in nature and bring it forward. As it stands, because local authorities need only to “have regard to” local nature recovery strategies, this is not strong enough. It does not give that purchase on the local plans. These two amendments do just that job, so I hope the Government will see them as a helpful way to help them do the job they have said they want to do and deliver their targets. If we do not agree these amendments, I really do not see how we are going to achieve the Government’s targets for nature, which all of us in this Chamber know we have to do. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of Natural Capital Research Ltd. I speak in total support of the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Parminter. I have a few brief points to add. As a country, we agreed last year at COP 15 to a number of international agreements and legislation to enhance and protect nature for the benefits that it provides. It is not just something nice to look at; it provides the most critical ecosystem services we rely on, including benefits for carbon sequestration, clean water, green space and health and education.
We also have our national targets that are set out in the Environment Act 2022. However, when looking at these, there is a huge void in what we say we are going to do and what we are doing on the ground. One of the biggest obstacles behind this large gap is to do with the planning system, where nature is still very firmly viewed as a secondary consideration. Nature is viewed as a thing that can be moved elsewhere, or it can be depleted or fragmented, because it does not matter as much as the other things we are considering. I totally disagree with that. A lot of nature is spatially constrained.
An important step leading on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said, is to move nature into the first tier of the planning legislation, in the sense that it is viewed in the same terms as anything else that we are reviewing. A local planning authority must ensure that its development plan, taken as a whole, incorporates these policies, and that the policies are in the local nature recovery strategy.
The outlines of the local nature recovery strategy were published by Defra last Friday. I have some serious concerns about it. First and foremost, most of the work is based around habitats, whereas a lot of the things we need to consider are to do with species and things such as soils, which are not in the guidance at all. We also have no guidance on how to make existing protected areas bigger or more joined up: the two key cornerstones of how we are going to get nature to recover. However, it is a first step in the right direction and the inclusion of this amendment ensures that local authorities must incorporate these strategies into their planning policy and local plans. As such, I strongly support this as the right way forward for nature in England and the UK more generally.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the other cosignatories on putting forward the two amendments in this group. My only concern is what time commitment and resources would be required of the local authorities, given the fact that they are very heavily challenged at this time. I pay tribute to the lead local authorities, especially on the work they are doing on flood prevention, which is already a major resource commitment timewise. I know it has made a big difference already in areas such as north Yorkshire, which I am most familiar with, where we do have a number of functional flood plains. Across the country, the advice of the Environment Agency is not always pursued.
As regards the habitats directive, we need a firm steer from the Government on how we are going to steer this path, where we have the retained EU law Bill where, presumably, we are going to park the habitats directive on one side. But there is a possibility here, through this group of amendments, for nature recovery strategies to try to achieve a balance.
I end by saying that my noble friend is only too aware of my commitment to farming and ensuring that, within nature recovery, farming is recognised as a major contributor to these strategies.
My Lords, I declare my interest as in the register. I came in to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, because I thought I liked the wording of her amendment. Having listened to her and the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, I am absolutely convinced of the justice of their case. As my noble friend will know, one of the most crucial parts of the Environment Act is local nature recovery strategies—it is what it is all about in many ways. At the moment, the Bill says merely that local authorities must “have regard to” it. We all know—the lawyers present will explain no doubt ad nauseum and for a reasonable fee—that “having regard to” is fairly meaningless in many ways. A local authority could “have regard to” a local nature recovery strategy and then find a dozen reasons to reject it, because they had regard to it but for this reason or that reason did not wish to pursue it.
I particularly like the wording here, which does not seem to tie local authorities’ hands. It says that they
“must ensure that their development plan (taken as a whole) incorporates such policies and proposals so as to deliver the objectives of the local nature recovery strategy”.
It does not tell them what to do or how to do it; it just says that they have a free hand to invent their own policies that deliver the objectives of local nature recovery strategies. I ask my noble friend the Minister: what is the point of us developing local nature recovery strategies at a national level if they are not going to be implemented locally in local development plans?
I do not think that my noble friend is right that there will be great additional cost to local authorities in doing this—I can see nothing here to suggest that—but, if local nature recovery strategies are to work as every single person in this Chamber wants them to, the wording of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, is probably the only way to deliver that. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could explain to me what the problem is with the noble Baroness’s wording.
My Lords, I too support these amendments. The noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Willis, have made an absolutely convincing and compelling case for strengthening the responsibility of local planning authorities to consider local nature recovery strategies.
This is exactly the arrangement that the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, set out when he was trying to persuade us not to press our amendments on this issue to a vote during the passage of the Environment Bill. At that time, he made it clear that the Government viewed local nature recovery strategies as key to identifying where action for nature and the environment would have the most impact. He went on to make it clear that Defra was working with the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to develop planning reforms that would contain a defining role for local nature recovery strategies and set them at the heart of decision-making. Obviously, there have been some changes in government and some movement on this since then, but that does not alter the nature of the pledges that were given at that time.
Since then, we have made good progress on establishing a network of local nature recovery strategies around the country. They are getting on with the job of surveying their local biodiversity priorities, providing crucial local data and mapping their local habitats. Their local knowledge and insight are proving crucial in identifying what action and resources can best be targeted. Through their partnership in stakeholder roles, they are also bringing together a wide group of interests to support a local strategic biodiversity recovery plan. However, what is the point of them doing all this work if local planning authorities can simply override their work and priorities? If we are not careful, those involved in drawing up these strategies will quickly become disillusioned and this will be seen as yet another talking shop.
This matters because, as we know, we have crucial statutory targets; for example, to halt the decline of species abundance by 2030, to deliver on our COP commitment to protect 30% of land and nature by 2030, and to deliver the many nature recovery targets set out in the environmental improvement plan. These are simply not going to happen unless local planning authorities put nature recovery at the heart of their decision-making. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, pointed out, there is widespread support for greater weighting to be placed on these local biodiversity recovery plans. There is also a real concern that, when it comes to the crunch, those nature recovery strategies will once again slide down the list of priorities and be seen as a second-tier concern.
I am grateful for the Minister’s letter to me and my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone on this issue. Again, she flagged up that the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 commits to publishing guidance on how local nature recovery strategies can be reflected in local plans. As we have heard, we have received statutory guidance since then; however, it does not answer the central challenge that, unless we have wording along the lines of Amendment 184ZA or something very similar, the current imbalance will continue and local nature recovery strategies will not play their deserved and necessary part in decision-making.
This is not a total determination but about getting the balance right and ensuring that local nature recovery strategies are part of the decision-making. I am very pleased to hear so much support for these amendments from around the Chamber today. I hope that the Minister is hearing that strong case and can reassure us that the Government will take this away and come back with a stronger commitment, along the lines of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.
My Lords, local nature recovery strategies are one of the triumphs of the Government’s Environment Act, which I welcomed at the time, as did the whole House. We wanted to ensure that they had a little bit more edge and power than they had when that Bill went through this House. We now have the chance.
Local nature recovery strategies are not a nice to have; they are essential. They are essential not only for nature and the environment but for the future of our economy, which is supported by so many of the ecosystems that I am sure the Minister, given his ministerial experience, is more aware of than I am. This is something that is vital, rather than, as I said, a nice to have. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, was right when she said that we have a problem here if the thousands of people who will be involved in writing these strategies are not convinced that any notice will be taken of their words.
However, I have some really good news here as chair of the local nature partnership in Cornwall and Scilly. Cornwall—not Scilly, although we are now involving Scilly in the final plan—was involved in a pilot local nature recovery strategy, along with four other areas. This was not seen by the various parties in Cornwall as being a pain to do, as something that the local authority and the local nature partnership had to urge, nudge and cajole them to do. It was something that people genuinely wanted to be involved with. The consultation exercise spread right across all sorts of organisations, individuals and households.
A strategy came out that was welcomed and that everybody wanted to happen. The great thing was that it was local. The Cornish aspects were particularly around things such as Cornish hedges, which are very different from other hedges elsewhere in the country. We also involve marine because, for a peninsula such as Cornwall, marine is so important. I was disappointed that the guidance that has come out does not mention marine. Marine is essential. It is part of the same ecosystems for those areas which are coastal.
My message is short: these local nature recovery strategies are vital to our future. We have, as we all know, one of the most nature-depleted areas in the UK. Even Cornwall, the environment of which is loved, has the same problems of retreating nature. This is the chance to have the turnaround in the environmental improvement plan. It is completely within the Government’s strategy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, said, the UK was at COP 15 in Montreal last year. We signed up to the global target of 30% being managed for nature. That is a UK target as well, as put out by the Government. Many local authorities, including in the south-west, have taken that target as well.
I urge the Government to take this step of ensuring that these plans really mean something. Let the thousands of people who will be involved and who will volunteer to participate know that not only will their voices be heard but their policies will be implemented.
My Lords, we have had some very powerful speeches in support of incorporating local nature recovery plans into the planning system. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friends Lady Parminter and Lord Teverson, and others such as the noble Baronesses, Lady Willis of Summertown and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. They made powerful speeches, so I do not need to add to their arguments.
However, I want to make two points, the first of which is the importance of stitching together different strategies across different government departments. This, in essence, is what Amendment 184ZA is about—that what was agreed in the Environment Act must be incorporated where it matters: in local plans and national development management planning.
Secondly, the Environment Act currently requires local plans and local planning authorities to achieve a 10% biodiversity net gain in any planning application, but it is not that straightforward. If the applicant is unable to improve the site on which it is developing by a 10% net gain—and a recent application I had resulted in a minus 19% biodiversity figure—the next option in the cascade of biodiversity options is for the applicant to purchase a nearby greenfield site and improve the biodiversity there. If that does not work, you get to commuted sums, whereby the applicant has to provide a sum of money for the local authority to improve biodiversity somewhere else entirely. To me, that is not what biodiversity net gain should be about.
As I have declared on many occasions, I am a councillor in Kirklees. Recently, I had a major application in my ward, and the applicant was unable to pursue any of those options. The commuted sum was for somewhere else entirely, and biodiversity was depleted in the area applied for. That is why these local nature recovery strategies are so important: they put that at the heart of local planning policies and outcomes, so that applications cannot fob off a lack of biodiversity net gain into some other part of a council district.
This amendment has my wholehearted support, and I hope that my noble friend will bring it back on Report if the Government will not accede to it now.
My Lords, it has been a very good debate, and there clearly is a lot of support for the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. We also strongly support them.
As has been discussed, the Environment Act created the local nature recovery strategies and introduced the statement of biodiversity priorities for local areas, accompanied by the habitat map, which identifies where people can contribute to enhancing biodiversity. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, these are not just nice to have; they are essential if we are to not simply reverse the decline but improve the situation. We know that local nature recovery strategies have the potential to really drive forward the recovery that is so badly needed. Importantly, they bring local knowledge and expertise into play. Also, as we have heard, the duty to apply the local nature recovery strategies in decision-making such as planning is too weak and will have a negative impact on their effectiveness.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch pointed out that the Government chose not to accept amendments tabled during the passage of the Environment Bill that would have required local authorities to take close account of local nature recovery strategy land identifications when making planning decisions. She also referred to the pledges made by the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith. Some of us who spent a lot of time considering that Bill had expectations in this area, and I am pleased that the noble Baroness has tabled these amendments so that we can debate those expectations.
The noble Baroness made it clear that the guidance for authorities on the application of the strategies is just not strong enough. As a result, despite groups mapping sites that will be essential to nature recovery in a local area, local authorities will not necessarily have to take proper notice if they do not want to. That is the fundamental problem, and we do not want lots of time and effort on the part of local nature recovery strategy groups and supporting bodies such as Natural England to be wasted, and opportunities then completely missed.
These amendments, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and supported by many noble Lords, would rightly prevent any wasted effort and enable the local nature recovery strategies to achieve their full potential. Incorporating them into local planning authorities’ development plans is surely an obvious way to go about this. We do not want them to be weak documents, sitting on a shelf somewhere and not informing proper strategic day-to-day planning decisions. We need them to make a real difference, not just a tangible one.
As we have heard, many people think that greater weight should be given in planning to local nature recovery strategies. The Environmental Audit Committee and the Office for Environmental Protection have supported this approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, talked about our commitments at COP 26, saying that there is a gap between what we say we will do and what we actually do, and that planning plays a very important role in nature recovery. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked, what are our priorities for the future? How will we meet the government targets? Surely, anything that helps deliver the local nature recovery strategies is to be welcomed. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, certainly thought this: he made it very clear that he thinks it important that this be included.
I hope that the Minister agrees with those who have spoken today and sees the absolute sense in accepting these amendments.
My Lords, I start by wishing the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, a speedy recovery, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Willis, and others, for bringing forward these amendments. There is a lot of unity in this Chamber regarding what we are seeking to achieve here, and I have listened with great interest to the debate.
On the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, this is an attempt to hard-wire nature into our planning system. Many will argue that it already is, but as has been pointed out by many others, nature continues to be depleted. Species decline is now a serious crisis. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, pointed out, this is not just an environmental crisis but an economic one, as the Dasgupta review so vitally illustrated.
Amendments 184ZA and 242I in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, provide a revision of the prior amendment, Amendment 184, to set out the relationship between local nature recovery strategies and development plans, to ensure that local nature recovery strategies’ objectives are reflected in development plans. These amendments would require that the Secretary of State’s guidance on how to have regard to local nature recovery strategies must include information on the degree of compliance with them.
Of course I recognise the vital importance of nature and the role that the planning system plays in nature recovery. Local nature recovery strategies will deliver more co-ordinated, practical and focused action to help nature. The noble Baroness, Lady Willis, talked about the fragmentation of nature. Her expertise is much greater than mine, but it is joined by the words she used—
“bigger, better and joined up”—
from the fundamental review of our nature sites by Sir John Lawton over a decade ago. If she looks across the array of government policy, she will see that the desire for a more joined-up approach to our nature sites is fundamental to environmental land management and all the other measures we seek to introduce, and, of course, in this.
I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness with the guidelines published last week. Paragraph 44 is not just about habitats. It says:
“Responsible authorities, with Natural England’s support, should seek to … identify the existing or potential habitats considered to be either locally or nationally important and the practicality of improving existing areas’ condition, or creating new areas of these habitats”,
“identify the existing or potential species (or groups of species) in the area that the strategy could make a particular contribution to enhancing or recovering, and assess the practicality of creating or enhancing habitats to support this.”
Other noble Lords have mentioned that guidance. I just add this line, not with my tongue in my cheek, because this is really important. Paragraph 94 says:
“They should write and present the statement in plain English.”
This is something that has to be understood not just by planning officers and people who work for NGOs but by farmers, land managers, and anybody who has some say in what is happening to the local environment around where they live. The basis of transparency and clarity should be fundamental to them.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his assistance in helping to develop this concept through the pilot project he spoke about in Cornwall and the Scillies. I agree entirely that this is a vital next step in our collective ambition to achieve our targets and, more importantly, as a generation to hand on our natural environment in a better condition than how we found it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about biodiversity net gain. The scheme that she talked about does not reflect how biodiversity net gain is defined in the Environment Act because that will not come into play until November. We are now working this up. It is not necessarily about the developer having to buy land; it can be insetting changes into the development, but also accepting that the vast majority of biodiversity lost through development will not be able to be replaced within the development. That is where the credits trading system comes into play. A good, high-integrity marketplace for biodiversity credits is fundamental to the success of a biodiversity net-gain scheme.
To add to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I say that the local nature recovery strategy guidelines laid last week create a requirement for all local nature recovery strategies to be agreed by the local planning authorities that the strategy covers, so they need to have regard to something that they have helped create. That will create a new sense of partnership and a balance that will be effective.
Our intention is that responsible authorities will be required to work collaboratively with local organisations, with input encouraged from across the public, private and voluntary sectors to establish shared proposals for what action should be taken and where. I can confirm—as has been said—that, last Thursday, the Government published the regulations and statutory guidance needed to enable the preparation of local nature recovery strategies to begin across England. As committed to during the passage of the Environment Act, the Government will publish guidance on how local planning authorities should consider local nature recovery strategies in plan-making, and this will be published this summer.
Local authorities are also required to publish biodiversity reports, with the first report due before 1 January 2026. Our guidance for this duty will make clear that the reports should include information as to how authorities have had regard to local nature recovery strategies. I assure my noble friend Lady McIntosh that the “new burdens” doctrine will be applied, as has been said, by Natural England, and support for local authorities will be fundamental.
The Government are still of the view that the details of the relationship between local nature recovery strategies and the planning system should be a matter for guidance; however, I thank noble Lords for identifying key considerations for that guidance. For instance, we want all components of local nature recovery strategies to be given full consideration during plan-making, including the maps that will set out both the most valuable existing areas for nature and specific proposals for creating or improving those habitats—precisely the points made by the noble Baroness.
At the same time, there are reasons to avoid a completely binding relationship between local nature recovery strategies and development plans, as plan-making will need to consider all the issues facing the local area and community, tested through rigorous requirements for consultation and examination. It is conceivable that in some cases the plan-making process may conclude that an aspect of a local nature recovery strategy needs to be addressed in a different way, so a degree of flexibility is desirable to allow for that.
With that being said, while I understand the intention behind this amendment and fully support the important role that local nature recovery strategies will play, this is not an amendment that we feel able to support. I will reflect on the debate and we will consider these matters further, but I hope that I have said enough to enable noble Lords not to press their amendment at this stage.
My Lords, I very much hope that my noble friend will reflect. As he started his remarks, I was buoyed with confidence that the Government had taken on board the sheer difficulty of turning what throughout my lifetime has been a process of depleting nature into a process of augmenting nature. It requires difficult internal decisions in all sorts of processes to get this right. Unless we give the process a good deal of strength and power, it will, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, just be ignored; there will always be an excuse for letting it go. I urge my noble friend that this may be the time for a little too much force on the tiller, to make sure that we make this change. If we find that we are clogging up the development system, we can perhaps let it go a bit, but we have been headed in the wrong direction for so long that we need to be absolutely sure that we are doing enough to turn the corner.
I thank my noble friend for his wise intervention. We have come a very long way. Over a decade ago, the natural environment White Paper created local nature partnerships. Some of those have been incredibly successful but some have not. What we are trying to create here on a statutory basis is something that will see around 50 of these right across the country, with consistency and a determination to draw the threads of the desire to restore nature through the planning system and get good decision-making as a result. I am happy to work with my colleagues and anyone in this House to see whether that can be tweaked but, at this stage, I think we are going a long way towards creating the kind of regulatory and statutory basis that we need to see the proper restoration of nature.
I am straying on to the next set of amendments, but the Minister made it very clear that, regarding building up local plans, there needs to be flexibility and that something statutory in the Bill would stop that. However, under Clause 86, if there is a difference between the local plan and national guidance, statutorily, in the Bill, it says that national guidance must be followed—so there is no flexibility. Can he explain that contradiction?
As the noble Lord says, he is perhaps straying on to the next group. What we are concerned with here is making sure that we are creating a plan that is agreed locally under very clear guidelines, and that has a proper weight in planning decisions across the country. We will then see an understanding of where the nature-rich areas are, where nature can be improved and what the particular features are in those areas that need restoration, all unpinned with an understanding of what species exist and where they can be increased in abundance. That is what we are trying to achieve here. We all want the same thing. I think we have gone a long way to achieving that and I have listened carefully to what noble Lords have said.
It was not a matter of the plans. The Minister has said that, as a matter of principle, the reason to reject the amendment was that flexibility is needed and that statutory provision for the automatic assumption to accept another plan should not be in the Bill. But Clause 86 says exactly that. I am trying to tease out why it is okay for one national plan but it is not okay for these local environment plans. What is the difference, as a matter of principle, if flexibility is required for local plans in every area, as the Minister said?
There are over 200 clauses in the Bill, and what good legislation seeks to do is to achieve the right balance between the needs of society—new houses, energy and the rest of it—and the understanding that we have a serious problem. We think we have that degree of flexibility about right here. There may be other parts of the Bill that are more rigid in what they seek to achieve, but I have tried to explain that if flexibility did not exist here, rather timid plans might be created, and we want ambitious plans to be created for these local nature recovery strategies. That is why we think this degree of flexibility is the right way forward.
I thank the Minister for his remarks, and for the fact that he recognised the strength of feeling right around the Committee. As he said, we all want the same thing; we all want to restore nature from its depleted state, and these local nature recovery strategies are a brilliant tool. As my noble friend Lord Teverson acknowledged, on these Benches and others we think this was a good initiative by the Government. The trouble is that it is not going quite far enough. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others, I was initially buoyed by the Minister’s comments. In his words, this is about hard-wiring nature into the planning system. It is—that is what we are trying to do. Frankly, it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to respond to the challenges that nature faces and that the citizens in our country are desperate for us to address.
Guidance alone will not be enough; it will not cut it—we know that. There are enough people in this Chamber who have been or are councillors who know that, when push comes to shove, if there is not some purchase on the planning system—if the local plan is not clear that the local nature recovery strategies are a key evidence base for the local plan—it just will not happen. Nature is not something you can just talk about, and the Government are good at getting plans together on local nature recovery. You can make as many targets as you like but if you do not will the means we will get nowhere.
This amendment is very clear. It does not say that every nature application has to be accepted or that every application for a housing estate, port or new building block has to be turned down. All it says is that the local nature recovery strategy has to be a key evidence base. That would allow flexibility but, as my noble friend Lord Teverson rightly said, would give people the confidence that when they—all these farmers, landowners, local community groups and environmental groups—invest all that time and put the effort in to put the local nature recovery strategies together, they will be listened to. That is what the amendment does. It does not say that nature must be above absolutely everything else. It just puts it on a level—or in balance, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, put it so well.
I am grateful to hear that the Minister is prepared to reflect. I hope that, in the period before Report, he will speak to those of us who feel strongly on this issue about some of the very real gaps in the guidance produced last week, including those on the marine side. As my noble friend Lord Teverson said, there are gaps in that. I know that it will come back to the House as a statutory instrument and we will have our say, but my understanding is that it has not been tabled yet, so it might be wise to have a period of quick reflection before it is.
Be that as it may, I am grateful to the Minister for offering to listen. We would like to take that opportunity up because it is not an issue, as I am sure he will feel, that the Committee is prepared to let go at this stage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 184ZA withdrawn.
Clause 86: Role of development plan and national policy in England
Amendments 184A and 185 not moved.
185A: Clause 86, page 94, leave out lines 28 to 30
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment would remove inserted subsection (5C), which would give primacy to the national development management policies over a development plan in the event of a conflict.
My Lords, the previous discussion highlighted some of the concerns we have about the contradictions between the matters that have been enshrined in the Bill, which some of us might think are not quite so important, and those which have been left out. Getting the balance right is clearly important. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and my noble friend Lady Hayman all said, now really is the time for nature recovery and such issues to be a clear focus and for them to be put into the Bill.
We have had lengthy earlier discussions relating to the unwelcome and centralising shift represented by the introduction of NDMPs. I hope that the Government have been left in no doubt about the deep disquiet in the local government community about this provision. Further to the earlier comments made on those serious planning matters, we believe that the Bill is simply not clear enough about how conflicts between local plans and NDMPs are to be dealt with. Our amendments in this group therefore address these issues.
Amendment 185A in my name seeks to take out the lines from Clause 86 that give automatic primacy to the NDMP where a conflict arises between it and the local plan. It is simply unthinkable that this could happen by virtue of statute, with no dialogue relating to why the local authority or the combined county authority considered it necessary to depart from the NDMP. Let me be provocative and suggest that it would, in effect, mean there was almost no point in preparing a local plan at all, if any conflict arising is to be determined in favour of the NDMP—which is, after all, determined in Whitehall. I will be interested in the Minister’s comments on this. Surely the provision goes against the key principles of devolution.
Amendment 186 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is similar but refers to “insignificant conflicts” between the local development plans and the NDMPs. If I know local government, I fear that this would involve considerable arguments, perhaps even resulting in legal arguments about what is and is not insignificant.
My noble friend Lady Hayman’s Amendment 187 aims to clarify the situation relating to how conflicts between local plans and the NDMP might be dealt with. It would add a further subsection to Clause 86, setting out how conflicts could be resolved in favour of the local development plan where a CCA had been handed powers over planning, highways, the environment and other functions of public bodies under the circumstances outlined in Schedules 16 and 17 or where the development plan comes under a joint spatial development strategy, or if it is in Greater London.
Amendment 192 is a probing amendment. It would insert a clause in the Bill setting out the primacy of the development plan over the NDMP, should there be a conflict. This amendment sits alongside other amendments to Clause 87 which aim to ensure—I want to be really clear about this—that the voices of local people and their democratically elected representatives have the primacy in determining the development of local areas.
Amendments 193 and 195 probe if there is to be any role for parliamentary scrutiny of how conflicts between development plans and the NDMP are resolved and/or whether Parliament is to be informed of the Secretary of State’s intention to override the local process. They also probe what role there is to be for a CCA whose constituent member or members may find themselves in a conflict between their development plan and the NDMP.
In summary, what is the mediation process to be? Surely there will not be an automatic assumption in favour of the policies produced centrally with no reference to local people. There is not much in the way of devolution in that proposal. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have to inform your Lordships that, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 186, 187 and 187A because of pre-emption.
My Lords, I want to speak to Amendments 186 and 187B in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. When we concluded the debate last Wednesday, my noble friend the Minister explained the Government’s reason for the introduction of the national development management policies. I reiterate to my noble friend that I very much welcome and anticipate a further response to clarify how the NPPF and NDMP relate to one another, perhaps by particular reference to the example of the chapter on green-belt policies.
If I can paraphrase, my noble friend said that a key reason was to make local plans more local. She said that, when making a determination of a planning application, the local plan policies will “sit alongside” the national development policies. But what if they are not consistent? This group of amendments looks at that question. The present position is that applications for planning permission must be made in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Clause 86 of the Bill inserts
“and any national development management policies.”
Therefore, applications must be made in accordance with the development plan and any national development management policies. The material considerations would need to “strongly indicate otherwise”. We argued that point last Wednesday.
Section 38 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states that, if a policy
“in a development plan … conflicts with another policy in the development plan the conflict must be resolved in favour of the policy which is contained in the last document”—
so it is simply a matter of which is the most recent. In future, that conflict may be between a development plan and the national development management policies. The Government, to resolve that question, state in Clause 86(2):
“If to any extent the development plan conflicts with a national development management policy, the conflict must be resolved in favour of the national development management policy.”
We have heard from the noble Baroness moving Amendment 185A that it proposes that proposed new subsection (5C) created by Clause 86(2) be deleted. Amendment 192 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would give precedence to the development plan. This turns the Government’s intention on its head. However, I have to say that it runs a serious risk of undermining national policies by virtue of local plan-making and turning the whole problem the other way around.
My Amendment 186, tabled with my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, would add the word “significant” to make the phrase, “if to any significant extent” there is a conflict. That would have the simple benefit of avoiding the disapplication of development plan policies because of an insignificant difference between that and an NDMP. It would run the risk—I have to acknowledge—of debate over what “significant” means. However, if the Minister were to object to the insertion of the word “significant” because of the risk of litigation, I will return to the question of the litigation that might arise through the insertion of the word “strongly”, which the Government resisted on those grounds.
Amendment 187, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would reverse the primacy of NDMP over the development plan where there is a substantial set of devolved responsibilities given to a combined county authority. These are, in effect, the planning powers of the constituent local planning authorities, so I have to confess that I am not at all clear why, if the powers are vested in a CCA, as opposed to a local planning authority, the primacy should be switched simply on those grounds.
Overall, we have a group of amendments here that illustrate the problem but do not offer a solution. The development plan should not be inconsistent with the NDMP. The new Section 15C of PCPA 2004, to be inserted by Schedule 7, states this. On page 294 of the Bill, it can be seen that the intention of the Government is that there should not be any inconsistency between the two. However, in practice, such inconsistencies will arise in relation to specific planning applications. That is where the problem emerges. When they do, as the Minister herself made clear, this is a plan-led system, and a decision should, so far as possible, be made in accordance with the development plan. As the NPPF makes clear, where there is no relevant plan policy or no up-to-date plan—our Amendments 187A and 187B are relevant here about the necessity of an up-to-date plan—then the decision should be made by reference to the national development management policies, which will continue to be given statutory weight, by virtue of this legislation, even if the plan is out of date.
Therefore, I ask the Minister to reflect on this question and whether the primacy of the national development management policies should be achieved through the plan-making process—that is, sustain that question of there being no inconsistencies—but also where no up-to-date plan applies. However, if there is an up-to-date plan, then that should be the basis of the decision. That would retain the principle that those seeking planning permission should do so in accordance with an up-to-date local plan. I hope that the Minister will consider whether, when we come back to this on Report, that might be the basis for amending the Bill.
My Lords, I will speak particularly to Amendment 187, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has attached her name. She is mostly handling the planning parts of this Bill, but she is otherwise engaged at this moment. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made a very interesting speech. It comes down to the question of what we mean by “inconsistency”. Do we mean that the local plan is trying to set higher standards than the national guidelines? If that is so, what we should have are national plans that set minimum standards. It should be within the power of local authorities to set higher standards if they so desire and if they think those are appropriate or necessary for the local area.
The noble Lord asked why this should apply particularly to CCAs, given that they are essentially a compilation of existing powers. The situation is that, where you have a CCA that has been created and handed the highways, environmental and other powers, certainly in local perception, in the understanding of people who have elected people on to those local bodies, the power that has been handed to this local body should rest in that local body.
Here, we have to look at the context of what it is like on the ground. I spent the weekend visiting various local areas outside London and hearing lots of complaints about local councillors’ lack of power to do what local residents want them to do. National planning rules have become far too bloated, and local councillors simply do not have the power to shape what happens in their local community in the way that residents expect them to. For example, people are surprised at how little power councils can have over the types of business established on a local high street. Massive international chains such as Starbucks can undermine the character and charm of a local scene, and the local planning authority and councillors are left wrestling over how the signage looks—which is not the issue that local people are most concerned about. There are more than 550 Green councillors around the country now, and this probably gets to the heart of what I hear from them so often: expressions of frustration at how power is centralised here in Westminster.
Amendment 187 would affect the position of the CCAs. The amendment in this group that seems the most powerful is Amendment 185A, which at least seeks to—I am not sure whether it actually does—give the local decision primacy. That is what the people of England are particularly looking for: the phrase “take back control” will be familiar to noble Lords, and there is a great hunger for that around the country. Here, we are down in the detail and the weeds of how the Bill works, but we are actually talking about something really important to how local elected representatives can decide how the future of their community is directed.
My Lords, the main debate on the new plan hierarchy was clearly spelled out in this Chamber last week, but Covid prevented me from joining in, although I listened with interest. I will not waste time going over that debate, but I still want to reiterate certain facts. As was well demonstrated in the debate on the last group, it is a fact that so much detail is still missing and so many important matters are still out for consultation—that is probably why there are so many amendments and why there is so much anxiety around the content of NDMPs. In particular, as was well expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, what will truly be left over for local councillors and their communities to shape their place? The Bill is very strong on the rhetoric of place shaping, but it feels that we are being disempowered to do that.
Before turning to the specifics of the amendment, I will say that it is absolutely clear that the potential for conflict is significant. Without some clarity and legal clout from the Bill—not just ministerial promises that there will be more details in the revised NPPF, or that it will be more clear when we have the NDMPs—what will happen as a result of this is that there will be plenty of work for the planning chambers and litigators going forward. There will be a long transition period—the Government are quite sensibly allowing for that—because this is a new system, so there will be quite some time before we get precedents set, we get used to it and we get to see which way it is going.
The amendments have regard to the obvious potential conflicts between NDMPs and local development plans, and they also question the increasingly all-powerful Secretary of State role and the position of combined authorities. The issues concerning Secretary of State powers have also been well articulated, but, as drafted, Clause 86, which was previously debated, and Clause 87 very clearly—I do not think there is any ambiguity—favour NDMPs over development plans. But they also transfer significant policy-making powers directly to the Secretary of State—this is yet another area of concern and potential conflict because, as we know, NDMPs come with no minimum public consultation or primary parliamentary scrutiny requirements. Despite the Government’s previous assurances that this undemocratic effect was not the intention of the clauses, no legal safeguards have been introduced, so this is an area in which we would certainly hope to see movement from the Government.
My first question for the Minister on this group is on the issue of local plan soundness, as it seems to me that a lot of conflict could and should be avoided if both the NDMPs and the local development plan are very clear about what they are trying to achieve, where the boundaries of their scope are, and where one might take over from another—I was envisaging the Venn diagram and hoping that there was not very much in the middle. It seems highly desirable that the overlap should be almost impossibly small, or as limited as possible, so can the Minister confirm whether a plan would be found sound under the new regime if it contained policies that were at variance with NDMPs?
The proposed introduction of gateway checks, which is an excellent suggestion, would seem to indicate that the intention is, on the one hand, to allow both parties an opportunity to point out unacceptable variance, or, on the other, for the local planning authority to present its evidence as to why local policies should deviate from the NDMPs and therefore receive advice and engage in constructive dialogue. From the thrust of the questions of the NPPF consultations and the subsequent Written Ministerial Statements, it seems that local variance is both expected and accounted for—good.
If that is the case, why do we need new subsection (5C), and why can we not just accept the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor? It is very definite and legally tight—too definite and legally tight to allow for circumstances when it might be absolutely legitimate to give the local plan precedence. Is that deemed to be a bad thing by the Government? If not, under the current system, in which decisions are now weighed and balanced, surely a degree of leeway is desirable—the more so, as has already been mentioned, as the main criticism around NDMPs is the worry that they will set a low floor and stifle ambition and innovation, which has always been, in the main, local authority-led. New subsection (5C) might sound definite, final and firm, and therefore intended to reduce conflict—but at what cost? Could there be unintended consequences?
If the Government do not accept that proposal, the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, provides a more nuanced response to a very complex issue to allow for a time when the NDMP may not necessarily be “Top Trumps” because it is appropriate in those local circumstances. I believe that the weight of new subsection (5C) does not allow that for that discretion, so we will certainly support that amendment. As to the discussion of the word “significant”, I respectfully suggest that planners, inspectors and litigators have always weighed up, and probably always will weigh up, these words. It is part of their bread and butter, it is what they do all the time, and this will be no exception.
Amendment 187 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, is a natural extension of that same logic. She can envisage times when a local plan can and should take precedence, especially if it relates to the additional responsibilities in a larger geographical area. On these Benches, we believe that there is real value in the Government incentivising, encouraging and supporting local authorities to work together to get a larger—and, dare we use the word, regional—spatial strategy of that sort. In effect, we would not want any barriers to be put in the way of that, because there is far more at stake in a local area, such as economic growth, than just meeting housing need.
The noble Baroness’s Amendments 192 and 195 are an interesting extension of this dilemma. I wonder whether her Amendment 193 could be logistically challenging, as the Secretary of State would have to actually hear and know about every single challenge and conflict. But the principle of a feedback loop regarding conflicts seems a good one, particularly during a period of transition, as all this will all new and very different territory for everyone. I think we would all like to know where the pinch points and places with the most disagreement are and, more importantly, how they are being resolved. We will be interested in the Minister’s thoughts on this thread of feedback, reporting, learning and, presumably, revising.
Amendment 187B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, seems very sensible. If the Bill is, as we hear all the time, to truly make the system a plan-led system, it absolutely makes sense that local plans must and should be up to date. My concern, particularly now, is with the removal of the tilted balance and planning by appeal, plus the supremacy of NDMPs. Can the Minister explain how the Government intend to incentivise councils to keep their plans up to date? I cannot see how that will be done, as there appears to be no disincentives to do otherwise.
We will support any amendment to insert a process for the Secretary of State to designate and review a national development management policy, including minimum public consultation requirements and a process of parliamentary scrutiny, as has been set out in the Planning Act 2008 and is already deemed necessary for national policy statements. If local authorities are rightly required to consult on such policies when preparing local plans today, in future it must be right that Secretaries of State be held to account by the public and Parliament in a similar way. As with national policy statements, we ask that Parliament be required to scrutinise NDMPs and that the public be allowed to consult on proposed changes to them.
There are loads of possible advantages of NDMPs, and there seems to be a general acceptance of this in principle, but the devil will always be in the detail. The unprecedented level of central control for planning that they introduce means that safeguards are needed to maintain local consent. These amendments touch on only a few areas of potential conflict, and we had plenty in the previous group. We have yet to touch on street votes versus local plans, neighbourhood policy statements versus the rest, and—one matter that is starting to come to the fore—the turning of supplementary planning documents into supplementary plans and all that this will entail. Those are debates for another day.
My Lords, I want to add a short footnote to the excellent speech made by my noble friend Lord Lansley, and to try to understand in what circumstances the conflict that we have been debating can arise—that is, the conflict between the local plan and the national development management policy.
Page 294 of the Bill—I appreciate that we have not got quite that far yet—describes the process that a local authority must go through when it prepares its local plan. New section 15CA(5) states that:
“In preparing their local plan, a local planning authority must have regard to … any observations or advice received from a person appointed by the Secretary of State … other national policies and advice contained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.
If that process has been gone through, the local plan should already be consistent with the national development management policies—it would have been spotted. So is it the case that the only time a conflict can arise is when, subsequent to a conforming local development plan having been adopted, the Government actually change the policy? Is that the only time that a conflict can arise? It cannot arise if a plan has gone through the process under the current NDMP.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate on the conflicts that will inevitably exist between the national development management policies and local plans. I thank my noble friend for pointing out in great detail the difficulties that may arise.
At the heart of this is the fact that, at the moment, we have no idea what will be included in the NDMP. Frankly, that is fairly critical as to whether or not there will be conflict. It will depend on whether these will be very high-level national policies, as in the current National Planning Policy Framework. It will depend on whether they will set standards, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has suggested. It will depend on whether they will simply reflect what is currently national planning policy but put it into a statutory situation for local planning authorities and local councils to agree to.
In Committee on the Bill last Wednesday, the Minister suggested that we would have a round table to try to tease out the detail and meaning behind the Government’s proposals in the Bill. It is absolutely vital that that happens as soon as possible. Throughout our debate on the plan-led process, it became clear that, if the intentions of the Government for the national development management policies are not understood, there will be conflict—as this group of amendments makes clear—around the degree to which local people have power and influence over local plans at this stage, and around the degree to which planning inspectors who are set to look at the local plans that are drawn up have power and influence over local plans. That is why it is really important that we hear from the Minister as soon as possible. What sort of policies are going to be included in NDMPs? At the moment, it is a fairly blank screen.
I have only one other thing to say, which has been raised by my noble friend. New subsection (3) inserted by Clause 87, which is about revoking or changing the NDMP, says that
“the Secretary of State must ensure that such consultation with, and participation by, the public or any bodies or persons (if any) as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate takes place.”
I hope the Minister will be willing to take away “if any” in that clause and reflect how important it is for local plans to be accepted by local residents. That means that the NDMP has to be acceptable to and accepted by local residents, as it is going to dictate the content or the direction of travel of local plan decision-making. There is a lot that hangs on the content of the NDMP, so I hope that when the Minister replies she is able to give us some hints as to what it will be.
My Lords, I begin by addressing Amendments 185A and 192 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lady Hayman of Ullock, which seek to remove or reverse the precedence given to national development management policies over the development plan in planning decisions where there is a conflict between them. I welcome this further opportunity to explain the objectives behind this aspect of the Bill.
As I indicated in our debate on this issue last week, national development management policies are intended to bring greater clarity to the important role that national policy already plays in decisions on planning applications. A clear and concise set of policies with statutory weight will make sure that important safeguards, such as protections for designated landscapes and heritage assets, are taken fully into account, without these basic matters having to be repeated in local plans to give them the statutory recognition they deserve.
These amendments deal specifically with what to do in the event that there is a conflict between national development management policies and the development plan when a planning decision must be made in accordance with both. The amendments would remove the certainty created by the Bill that up-to-date national policies on important issues, such as climate change or flood protection, would have precedence over plans that may well have been made a long time ago.
Some local plans are woefully out of date; for example, some date back to the 1990s. Only around 40% of local planning authorities adopted a local plan within the last five years. It would, in our view, be wrong to say that, in the event of a conflict, national policy does not take precedence over out-of-date policies in these plans, which is what these amendments would achieve. This point is particularly crucial because we wish to use national policies to drive higher standards, especially on good design, the environment and tackling climate change, and it is important that these take precedence in the event of a conflict with out-of-date policies in plans.
Nevertheless, I expect such conflicts to be very limited in future as we are making it easier to produce plans and keep them up to date, and because the Bill makes sure that new plans will be drawn up consistently with national policies, including the new national development management policies. Given the important role that national development management policies will perform and their benefits in providing certainty, I hope noble Lords understand that we are not able to support this amendment. I agree with my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham that few, if any, conflicts should arise under this new way of working.
Amendment 186 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley would give national development management policies precedence over the development plan only where there was a “significant” conflict between the relevant policies. Where a local policy and national development management policy are both relevant considerations but not in any conflict, it will still be for the decision-maker to decide how much weight is afforded to these policies based on their relevance to the proposed development. Our clause sets out only what should be done in the event of a conflict between policies where they contradict one another. My noble friend brought up the green belt. Policies controlling development in the green belt are standard nationally and will be set out in the NDMPs. Local plans could—will—define the boundaries of the green belt, as they do now, so I do not think there should be any conflict between those two issues.
We have explained why we believe it is important that NDMPs are prioritised in the event of such a conflict, and we expect such conflicts to be limited, as I have said.
I fear I was not clear enough about what I asked about last week and hoped to hear more about. Chapter 13 of the NPPF describes the green-belt policies. It forms two parts: the first relates to plan-making and the second, from new paragraph 149 onwards, to how these policies should be applied in relation to development in the green belt and the determination of planning applications. My assumption has been—partly answering the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that we do not know what the NDMPs are; this is a good illustration—that the latter will be NDMPs, the former will not. There will continue to be guidance in the NPPF. If I am wrong, I would be glad to be advised; otherwise, it would be helpful to understand how these things divide up.
I am sorry. Obviously, I got the issue slightly wrong in the last debate. I thought that we were talking about a conflict between two green-belt policies. I will go back to Hansard. Obviously, my answer is not relevant, therefore, but I will check that out and give my noble friend a proper answer in writing. I think that is the best way to do it, as we got it wrong.
Additionally, the suggested wording of Amendment 186 would also generate uncertainty and associated litigation, because the term “significant” would be open to considerable interpretation. Therefore, as the amendment would cut across the greater certainty which we hope to bring to planning decisions, it is not one that we feel able to accept.
My noble friend Lord Lansley also brought up the decision-making role of the NDMPs being constrained by matters not covered by an up-to-date plan. NDMPs will focus on matters of national importance that have general application. This will enable the local plans to be produced more quickly so that they no longer move to repeat the things that are in the national plans. It is important that there should not be—as there is now—this duplication in plans. I think this makes it simpler and less open to conflict.
Amendment 187 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which relates to higher-tier authorities with planning powers, would give precedence to the development plan over national development management policies, where a mayor or combined authority has strategic planning powers, or where a group of local planning authorities have produced a joint spatial development strategy.
As I have set out, we believe that there are good reasons why, in certain cases, national development management policies may need to take precedence over those in the development plan. National development management policies will underpin, with statutory weight, key national policy protections in cases where plan policies, including spatial development strategies, become out-of-date.
I note that the Secretary of State already has powers to direct amendments that must be made to draft versions of spatial development strategies before they are published, where he thinks it is expedient to do so, to avoid any inconsistency with current national policies. These powers have been used sparingly in the past, although they have been used where important national policies were duplicated but inappropriately amended.
For these reasons, we believe it is right that national development management policies would be able to override the development plan in those cases where it is absolutely necessary, even where there is a strategic plan-making body in place. Thus, this is not an amendment that we feel able to support.
I think I answered my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham in a previous debate, but I will repeat what I said for those Members who were not here last time. Amendment 187B in the name of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham aims to ensure that decisions on planning applications are taken in line with an up-to-date plan, with an up-to-date plan being defined as less than five years old.
As previously mentioned, we know that, for local plans to be effective, they must be kept up to date. Currently, plans must be reviewed to assess whether they need updating at least once every five years and they should then be updated as necessary. We intend to replace this current review requirement, which is a source of confusion and argument. It has been described in this place as a loophole and I have some sympathy for that characterisation.
In the Bill policy paper published last May, we committed to set out a new, clearer requirement in regulations for authorities to commence an update of their local plans every five years. It is, however, important that we do not create a cliff edge in law that forces important aspects of plans to be out of date for decision-making purposes just because they are more than five years old; this would, for example, have the effect of weakening green belt protections very considerably.
I should also make it clear that we are retaining the current provision that gives precedence to the most up-to-date development plan policy should conflicts occur between plans. For example, where there is a local plan that is out of date but, on the other hand, a more recently approved neighbourhood plan, the neighbourhood plan would take precedence.
I fully understand the intention behind these amendments; they would certainly focus the minds of the authorities on plan-making. However, I believe that the legislative and policy provisions for keeping plans up to date that we are putting in place strike a better balance so, as with the other amendment, we are unable to support that.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but my point relates to having an up-to-date plan. My noble friend has made clear her rather compelling points about the national development management policies taking precedence over an out-of-date plan but, if there is in place an up-to-date plan that works and is both recent and relevant, why should an NDMP seek primacy over an up-to-date local plan?
What I am trying to explain to noble Lords is that there should be no conflict because they deal with different things. The national development management policies are likely to cover common issues that are already being dealt with in national planning policies, such as the green belt, areas at risk of flooding and heritage areas. They would not impinge on local policies for shaping development, nor would they direct what land should be allocated for a particular area. They are totally different things. Looking to the future, therefore, I cannot see what conflict there would be.
I just want to explore this further, if the Minister will agree to it. The question from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is at the heart of this issue. Where there is an existing, up-to-date local plan, why should that not have primacy over the national development management policies, because it will have taken cognisance of those in developing the local plan?
Can the Minister help me here? In the NPPF, there are 16 national planning policies. Does she anticipate that those will be translated into the NDMPs? It is at that level that we need to understand this because, when it comes to local plans, the NPPF is part of them; as the Minister rightly argued, it is put into local plans. But then they are then interpreted locally, for local reasons, which is why I am concerned about an NDMP having primacy over up-to-date local plans.
The national development management policies are dealing with the top-level issues. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we are out to review those issues of consultation. These issues have come back. We have not got the list yet, but your local plan will accept those as being there and will then deal with issues that are local. As my noble friend said, there will be issues such as the green belt, but they will take into account the national policies on green belt and deal only with very localised policies on it, so there should be no conflict. I do not see where that conflict can be. But we are going to have a meeting on this to further discuss and probably have, not arguments, but strong debates—those are the words—on these issues.
The point is to make clear that there is no conflict.
Amendment 193, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Secretary of State to
“lay a Statement before both Houses of Parliament”
if there is
“a conflict between the national development management policy and a development plan”.
As I have noted, actual instances of conflict between national development plan policies and those being included in the plans should be relatively unusual, as the Bill makes clear that planning policies should avoid such conflicts—something that will, in cases of doubt, be assessed transparently through public examination of those emerging plans as they are made. Should any conflicts arise when considering individual planning applications or appeals—for example, where the local plan has become very out of date—this will need to be made very clear through the report on the application, or the evidence before the planning inspector. These procedures will ensure transparency for communities. At the same time, it would be impossible for the Government to track every instance of such a conflict arising and to report to Parliament on it. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will understand that this is not an amendment we can support.
Amendment 195, also tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, would require the Secretary of State to consult county combined authorities if it is deemed that there is a conflict between the national development management policy and a development plan. As I have already explained, where any inconsistencies arise between an emerging plan and the national development management policies, these will be evident during the plan preparation and examination. We expect that any county combined authority will be engaged in this process at the local level. There is no need for an additional statutory requirement to be placed on the Secretary of State in the way the amendment would do.
I have also pointed out the impracticality of applying a requirement of this nature in relation to any inconsistencies which might arise in the handling of individual planning applications, the great majority of which will not be cases that the Government are party to. Consequently, I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that we are unable to support this amendment. I hope that I have said enough to enable the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, to withdraw her Amendment 185 and for other amendments in this group not to be moved as they are reached.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, asked what intervention powers the Government will have to get involved. We think that local authorities know their area best and, unequivocally, are best placed to produce their own local plans. However, if local plans are not produced or are failing, or if something is absolutely wrong with that plan, the Secretary of State will retain the power to intervene if necessary.
My Lords, one of the problems that those of us who have been very involved in the planning system are having is that we cannot see how this all fits together and works in practice. In her last statement, the Minister said that local authorities know their area best, and those who have been involved in this system would certainly agree with that but, as we go through the process of looking closely at the Bill, it is getting more rather than less confusing.
We had a good discussion and some key issues have emerged, first around how little detail there is about the hierarchy of this new planning process. I accept that the Minister has offered to have a round table with us to discuss what that structure looks like and to listen to more of our concerns about how this is going to work in practice. There was a great deal of consideration of the issues around the strategic development plans for these new CCAs. A lot of work will go into the joint working on those strategic development plans, with their constituent members and partners. They reflect the significant new powers that they will have over transport, environment and issues relating to some other public bodies—potentially health, policing and so on. Some of us are struggling to understand why, after all the work that has gone in, there may be an intervention from the Government via the NDMPs to say that the planning process has to be intervened in or overturned. That is also of concern.
Another element was the consideration of whether this would be different depending on whether an up-to-date plan is in place or not. That is a key consideration and I accept the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that it may make a great difference as we go through the consideration of how these plans will work and what the review requirements are. We made the point in previous discussions, and I will make it again, that the big difference between the NPPF and the new NDMP is that the NPPF is guidance. As we have discussed previously, it can be flexible to local needs and often is, whereas the NDMP is going to be statutory. For example, how would it deal with applications made within the green belt? These are some of the practical issues with which some of us are wrestling, and I hope that a round-table discussion helps clear some of that up.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, gave a very clear exposition of how he sees the word “significant” making a difference. I appreciate that. Of course, lawyers will be lawyers—I know there are some in this Chamber, so I will not take this line too far—but they embrace any words that can be interpreted in different ways, as we know. Those of us who have been in legal battles around these things before have the scars to show for it. My concern about that amendment was simply that it would result in a great deal of litigation.
We were discussing the planning powers of constituent local authorities and, of course, the role of these new CCAs will be very different from the role of either district councils, when they are doing their local plan, or county planning authorities, when they do things such as mineral and waste plans. I think we need some careful consideration of how those much more strategic plans will relate to NDMPs.
I have commented on the point from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about up-to-date plans; I think, where we have one, they should take precedence. The Minister also talked about how, if the neighbourhood plan is more up to date than the local plan, the neighbourhood plan would take precedence. By logic then, if the local plan is more up to date than the NDMP and there is a conflict between them, the local plan should take precedence. I cannot see why one would apply and the other would not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the issue around councillors’ powers over planning, and lots of them feeling that these have been diminished over the years. She referred specifically to businesses in the local high street. We all suffer the pain of that, as we see the use classes widen out and councillors almost unable to make any decisions about what is or is not in their local high street.
I have a particular case in my own borough around housing development. We had a very beautiful and attractive building, which everybody loved, and a developer put in a housing application. It ended up at the High Court and, in spite of the wishes of local people, councillors and everyone else at a local level, planning law meant that it could not be determined locally, and it was found in favour of the housing developer. These sorts of things happen. I am not quoting my example particularly; I know that this happens all over the country. Local decision-making should have primacy. From what I have heard in this Chamber, everybody wants to see this new system ensure that that is the case.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, as ever, for her very detailed explanation of how she has been thinking through these aspects, particularly of Clauses 86 and 87. The fact that the NDMPs are drawn up with no consultation or parliamentary scrutiny is a key point in all of this. She raised the important issue of whether local plans could be found unsound if they are not in compliance with NDMPs, which goes to the points of the noble Lord, Lord Young. We are not talking about application stage here; we are talking about the point at which there is a local plan inspection going on, and how that would work. If local variance can be taken into account, to what extent is that the case with the difference between the local plan and the NDMPs? She mentioned the importance of having a feedback loop for tackling issues where there have been conflicts between different plans at different levels.
Importantly, the noble Baroness raised the issue of how the Government will incentivise councils to keep plans up to date. My concern is that NDMPs may prove to be the exact opposite—a disincentive. If the NDMPs will always take precedence, local councils may decide that that is another reason not to proceed with the renewal of their local plan when it is due. I agree that safeguards will be needed for such a centralised system.
This has been a detailed and really useful debate—even though, as I said before, as we go further into discussing the aspects of planning, it brings up more questions and confusion. The Minister said that she expects such conflicts between plans to be limited. If they will be as rare as hen’s teeth, it will surely not be too onerous to report on them and have them determined, or at least explored, by some kind of parliamentary scrutiny.
At its heart, the issue around conflicts is leading to concern because of not understanding how the plans fit with one another. I hope that, at some point in the very near future, we will have the opportunity to have a discussion around how the parts of the system will fit together. I look forward to that. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 185A withdrawn.
Amendments 186 to 187B not moved.
Clause 86 agreed.
188: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to promote health and well-beingThe Secretary of State must ensure that national planning policy and guidance are designed to secure positive improvements in the physical and mental health and well-being of the people of England.”
My Lords, in moving the amendment in my name, I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, who have added their names to my amendments in this group. I very much look forward to their contributions today.
Amendment 188 sets out that:
“The Secretary of State must ensure that national planning policy and guidance are designed to secure positive improvements in the physical and mental health and well-being of the people of England.”
There is currently no provision for promoting health and well-being in planning legislation and guidance. Even in the key paragraph 20 of the National Planning Policy Framework, where the Government set down requirements on strategic policies in local plans, there is no mention of promoting health and well-being but simply a reference to the provision of healthcare facilities. This seems to be a very old-fashioned view of health which equates health with healthcare.
If nothing else, the pandemic has accelerated public understanding that health in the broadest sense, and well-being, are central to place-making, communities and the levelling-up missions. Our homes and neighbourhoods deeply influence our health, for good and for bad, and this all influences our life chances. If we want to level up and create the circumstances in which people can flourish, health and well-being must have central roles in our planning system.
I recognise that this is a big change. The amendment is very carefully worded to say “designed” to secure positive improvements. This is not just an add-on: it places health and well-being at the heart of the system. There is an opportunity here to create the conditions for levelling up and for people to flourish. We can use the planning system to ensure that we are providing healthy environments and healthy homes that are fit for purpose.
I refer briefly to the amendments in this group that are not in my name. They cover very similar territory. While I will not speak to them, I support them.
I turn to Amendments 394 to 399, which are specifically about healthy homes. I will briefly explain the background to these and why I think they are necessary, before going into some detail.
I am delighted that the Government recognise that housing and health are key to levelling up, and that, in the Minister’s letter to Peers on 27 January, she wrote that the Government support the objective within the Healthy Homes Bill. However, she went on to say that this is dealt with by existing laws and/or alternative policy. With respect, I do not believe that that is the case. There is no overall statutory duty with regard to healthy homes, and it is clear to all of us that existing laws and guidance are simply not producing the results that we all want. There is some existing policy—for example, in the National Planning Policy Framework—that addresses some of these issues, but even this is not mandatory and can be set aside by local decision-makers.
More directly, we can all see that existing policies are not working—we need only to look at some of the results. I have a photo book, which I will send to the Minister, of some of the worst examples around the country. I am happy to send it to any other noble Lord who wishes to have a copy. It contains examples of some recently developed homes. Many of them are permitted developments with, for example, redundant office blocks on industrial sites providing appalling accommodation, but this is not just about PDR.
It is reasonable to ask, and I have been asked, whether the requirements proposed in these amendments will add cost. The argument goes that you could perhaps get a larger number of homes for the same sort of money. But that is the wrong question. This is not about higher or lower cost or quality. The purpose is to eliminate homes being developed that are simply not fit for purpose. It is not about the relative cost.
I know that there are other objections around this being extra regulation, although this is not the principal barrier to development generally. I have met with high-quality developers around the country and looked at how they are developing homes and neighbourhoods. There is very little in this that they are not already doing, and they have internal processes to ensure that it happens. More generally, for the regulation system as a whole, I believe that an overarching requirement to promote health, safety and well-being will help align planning and building regulations better and could be used to reduce complexity.
Turning to the detail of the amendments, I think they provide a very sensible structure. I do not claim credit for it; it was proposed by Dr Hugh Ellis of the TCPA. In essence, they set out a duty on the Secretary of State to secure health, safety and well-being in new homes in accordance with 11 healthy homes principles, which the Secretary of State can then establish the policy on. This is not set in stone but can change from time to time as appropriate and can be interpreted differently by the Secretary of State for different areas, such as country and town areas. There is also a duty to report on progress. The key point is that this is all mandatory and that it should be reported on regularly.
Amendment 394 would introduce a duty on the Secretary of State to secure healthy homes. Amendment 395 would require the Secretary of State to prepare a policy statement explaining how the healthy homes principles will be used. Amendment 396 sets out the principles. Amendment 397 would require a draft of the statement on interpretation to be available to Parliament for possible comment. Amendment 398 describes the effect of the statement on different authorities. Amendment 399 would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual progress report.
I commend these amendments to your Lordships as a way of securing new homes that are fit for purpose, which would also enhance health and reduce the burden on the health and care system, because we should note that unhealthy homes, far from being a cost-neutral or light-cost option, cost the NHS roughly £1.4 billion every year. Most importantly, the amendments would provide homes that offer a secure foundation for the lives of individuals and families, helping them to thrive. They would also play a significant role in levelling up. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 188, headed as it is by the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Young, sounds like an advertisement for a supermarket lettuce. Along with the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Stunell, I supported the Healthy Homes Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on 15 July, along with many other noble Lords who all spoke in favour at Second Reading. When the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, replied to the debate, after expressing his disappointment that the Government were not supportive of his Bill, he said:
“I will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and look for opportunities for this in current legislation.”—[Official Report, 15/7/22; col. 1707.]
He then did what did not always happened when I was Chief Whip in another place: he followed my advice. His amendments would simply insert his Bill into this one, so today we have an opportunity to build on what was said on that occasion in July and take the debate forward.
I looked again at what the Minister said in reply to that debate:
“The Government oppose this Bill, not because they take issue with the premise of noble Lords’ arguments, but rather because they believe that the problems highlighted in the Bill are already being dealt with via alternative policy routes … Many of the proposed healthy homes principles are already covered by the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these should be applied. The NPPF must be taken into account by local authorities in the preparation of their development plans, and it is a material consideration in planning decisions.”
She went on to say:
“We are intending to review the NPPF to support the programme of changes to the planning system. This will provide an opportunity to ensure that the NPPF contributes to sustainable development as fully as possible.”
So two options are available. One is to do what the amendments would do and incorporate the Healthy Homes Bill into primary legislation. The other—and I hold no negotiating brief for the noble Lord, Lord Crisp—is for the Government to undertake that the revised NPPF will incorporate the relevant commitments in Amendments 394 to 399.
Those amendments build on what is already in the NPPF. In the Minister’s own words:
“The social objective focuses on supporting strong, vibrant and healthy communities by fostering well-designed, beautiful and safe places with accessible services and open spaces. More specifically, the framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places. This should support healthy lifestyles, especially where this would address identified local health and well-being needs.”
The Minister went on to say:
“This means that all plans should promote sustainable patterns of growth to meet local need, align growth and infrastructure, improve the environment, mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.”—[Official Report, 15/7/22; cols. 1702-03.]
But that is not a million miles away from what is in the noble Lord’s amendments. The Minister may want to reflect on the precise wording and have a dialogue with the noble Lord, but her objective of mitigating climate change, which I just referred to, is not a million miles from proposed new paragraph (f) in Amendment 396, that
“all new homes should secure radical reductions in carbon emissions in line with the provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008”.
If my noble friend the Minister has “resist” on the top of her speaking notes, is she prepared to discuss with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, how his agenda can best be taken forward?
I will say a brief word on Amendment 241, which is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Lord Stevens and Lord Foster. In 2021, the Public Services Committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, conducted an inquiry into levelling up. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I sat on that inquiry. The committee emphasised in its report the need to reduce regional inequality in healthy life expectancies.
I was pleased that the Government took this forward by announcing levelling-up mission 7: that these inequalities will be reduced by 2030. However, improving an outcome as fundamental as that cannot be achieved just by instigating a target. There are measures in the Bill that will contribute directly to meeting the aims of other missions, so it is a particular gap that there is none that addresses this mission. Reforms to the planning system provide the opportunity to put this right, so that geography is not destiny and we can reverse the widening gap in health inequalities over recent years. As the White Paper said:
“One of the gravest inequalities faced by our most disadvantaged communities is poor health.”
Our physical environment has a significant effect on the length and quality of our lives.
A similar amendment was dismissed in the other place because the NPPF already emphasises “healthy places”. Since then, a revised NPPF has been put out to consultation, but that does not address the points made in either that debate or the debate on the Healthy Homes Bill, and we are still building new communities which do not meet this basic requirement. Something clearly is not working, and we need to do better.
The proposed new clause proposes to match the levelling-up mission with a new objective for local planning authorities to reduce health inequalities. How exactly they do this would be left up to them, as every area is different. It would empower planners, giving them a mandate to consider what is right for current and future residents. It provides powerful levelling-up tools to those best placed to use them: local authorities, whose experienced planners know the importance of healthy communities.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider concrete measures such as this to deliver on the missions. That can be done only if we work with local councils and give them the mandate and flexibility to succeed.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 484. I thank my supporters: the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Stunell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I also declare my interests as a director of Peers for the Planet, and as a project director working for Atkins.
It would be helpful if I started with some definitions; I hope I am not teaching too many noble Lords to suck eggs. There are two types of emissions from buildings: operational carbon, which is those emissions due to energy and water use; and embodied carbon, which is those emissions related to construction materials. Operational carbon emissions are already limited by Part L of the Building Regulations, but there is no such parallel regulation limiting embodied carbon emissions.
For a long time, operational carbon emissions have accounted for the majority of buildings’ emissions. However, with decarbonisation of the grid, operational carbon has reduced in recent years and that trend is set to continue, particularly with the introduction of electric heating. As such, the embodied carbon emissions in construction contribute an increasing proportion of the whole-life carbon emissions for most buildings, with one study indicating that over two-thirds of a low-energy new building’s emissions are embodied.
UK embodied carbon emissions represent some 50 million tonnes of emissions per year, which is more than aviation and shipping combined—a huge quantity of emissions that is completely unregulated and has increased in recent years. We think of the huge effort that is going into mitigating the carbon emissions of aviation and shipping: we have a sustainable aviation fuels plan, jet zero and plans for corridors for emission-free shipping based on ammonia and hydrogen. But for embodied carbon the current plans in place are sparse—although industry is making some good progress in reporting—so we have a problem.
Lord Boyce, who sat on these Benches but passed away, sadly, late last year, had a saying which went something like, “There is no such thing as problems, only solutions in disguise”. The solution here is a fantastic campaign, which has been under way for a number of years, to add a new part, Part Z, to the building regulations; this would start with reporting and then move on to regulation of embodied carbon emissions. It has wide support across industry; 200 of the country’s leading developers, clients, contractors, architects, engineers and institutions have written statements of support. These include organisations such as British Land, Willmott Dixon, Sir Robert McAlpine and Laing O’Rourke—I could go on—and industry bodies such as the Construction Industry Council, the Concrete Centre and the Steel Construction Institute; so there is wide support right across industry.
Industry already has the tools necessary to respond to Amendment 484 and, indeed, is voluntarily using them. Regulation would simply unlock the final door to enable the existing mechanisms to run smoothly and to ensure a level playing field. It has already been the subject of a Private Member’s Bill put forward by Jerome Mayhew in another place, which has enjoyed wide cross-party support.
Many countries in Europe are already proceeding with the approach outlined in the amendment. These include France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark and Norway. It is not only about the emissions cost; we risk being left behind in the opportunities that the amendment will unlock if we do not proceed with it soon. These opportunities include the benefits of a standardised approach to reporting—rather than the patchwork quilt of the many approaches that exist currently—which would reduce overall costs to industry, and the treasure trove of data that would be generated and could then be used to inform further decarbonisation efforts, both in voluntary targets and in leading towards eventual regulation.
To add to this, the policy signal provided by this amendment would mean that the UK could then develop in growing markets such as steel recycling, an important area that could be developed in the UK. Rather than exporting scrap and importing recycled steel as we currently do, we could invest in that industry in the UK, as is currently done in the US and Europe. Low-carbon cement is another example; if the signal were given, attracting investment and moving that from lab scale to implementation would be much more of a priority—likewise, low-carbon building materials such as non-plastic insulation and the retrofit and reuse market.
So what is currently going on within government? The Government’s construction playbook calls for carbon assessments on all public projects. However, it provides no details as to how that should take place or what an appropriate carbon emissions level is. This leads to many inefficiencies in differing approaches to assessments, increasing overall costs to the taxpayer.
The key ongoing activity is a DHLUC consultation on embodied carbon reporting, which is due to report later this year. Our amendment has been drafted to align with that consultation; it states that regulations must be made within six months of the Act being passed. This amendment would give the Government a ready-made legislative vehicle to implement these regulations once the outputs of the consultation have been defined. All the pieces of the puzzle would then be in place; otherwise, I fear that we would have much longer to wait to make parliamentary time available—we need to move quickly and seize the opportunity here.
Working in business myself, one area of concern that I am very conscious of is to avoid placing additional burdens upon small and medium-sized enterprises. Whole-life carbon assessments will involve some additional costs to businesses, at least initially while tools and approaches are being refined. This is why we have placed limits within the amendment; it applies only to building works with a total useful floor area of 1,000 square metres or over and to developments with more than 10 dwellings. This shields smaller developers from the initial costs of undertaking whole-life carbon assessments.
Finally, I will go into a little more detail on how the amendment would work. The overall strategy is to “report first, limit later”. This follows the precedents set elsewhere in Europe and makes the transition towards zero-carbon construction easier, while sending a clear signal that legislated limits are coming. The amendment deals with the initial reporting aspect, with the intent that later regulations would cover embodied carbon limits, which would in themselves be informed by the initial reporting phase. As I alluded to earlier, approaches to many of the aspects in the amendment have already been developed and are being used voluntarily by industry; for example, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has defined a methodology for calculating embodied carbon.
The emissions footprint that embodied carbon represents means that we need to move forward with urgency and help to enable industry to bring forward solutions. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is an ideal and timely enabler to make this happen.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 484 in the name of my noble friend Lord Ravensdale, which was so comprehensively and expertly laid out before us. I declare my interests as president of the Sustainable Energy Association and a member of the Peers for the Planet coalition.
This amendment would require housebuilders and other developers to produce an assessment of the amount of carbon for which the construction of a proposed project would be responsible over its life. This includes the carbon embodied in the building materials used and the construction processes deployed.
Everyone recognises the necessity of building in ways that limit carbon emissions once the building is constructed, but that is only half the story. Half of total emissions—possibly more—associated with new building come from the carbon embodied in its construction. Concrete, steel and other materials use vast quantities of fossil fuels, as does transportation, sometimes across continents, of heavy building materials.
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has shown that—as the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, said—the embodied carbon in new buildings accounts for more emissions than aviation and shipping put together; that is a great statistic. Yet this huge contributor to climate change is virtually invisible. Measuring and assessing embodied carbon alongside the subsequent emissions over a building’s lifespan should make all parties think harder when choosing building materials. There are many alternatives to the worst-offending components. This amendment will provide the basis for eliciting the evidence for more sophisticated decision-making.
The amendment could also lead to greater priority being given to making the best use of the buildings we already have before demolishing and replacing existing structures and adding to landfill. Demolition and construction also create dust and air pollution on a massive scale, amounting to some 30% of harmful particulates in urban areas. Retaining—rather than clearing and replacing—existing housing can also have social and community benefits. Demolition of Victorian terraced streets in the 1960s and 1970s is now seen to have been, in many cases, an unfortunate mistake. The amendment forces us to pay more attention in the wider levelling-up agenda to the regeneration of the homes we have today, rather than concentrating, as the Bill does, on the planning and delivery of new homes.
Action to upgrade existing properties—with green grants, regulations on energy efficiency for lettings, tax incentives and more—does not only address the decarbonisation challenge, it improves quality of life, reduces fuel poverty and saves NHS budgets. Recent research by the Building Research Establishment found that excessively cold homes, for example, are costing the NHS £540 million a year. The improvement of existing housing would also be accelerated, and the stock of available affordable homes increased, by the introduction of a national housing conversion fund to finance acquisition and modernisation of poor-quality, privately rented properties.
As the levelling-up programme moves onward, these regeneration measures will demand more of government’s attention. In the meantime, this amendment would achieve a more credible basis for judging the environmental impact of building practices and I strongly support it and the creation of a new Part Z to the building regulations.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in his amendments, and join the noble Lord, Lord Stunell and Lord Young, in doing so. I spoke on the Healthy Homes Bill on Friday morning, so I will try to not repeat all of it, because some Members here in Committee will have been there on that occasion. I will just say that designing for the future and retrofitting for the present go hand in hand. It is a no-brainer that homes need to be both warm and well ventilated. It is a no-brainer that the community around the dwellings we have and those we build needs to be both sustainable and a contributor to the health and well-being of those living in those homes.
I recall one small occasion when my predecessor as leader of Sheffield City Council was getting deeply frustrated at the cost of building. He decided to design his own bungalow on the back of fag packet. This bungalow’s heating was to be provided by a gas fire that was strategically placed so that when the door of the one bedroom was open, it would heat the lounge, the bedroom and, if you were lucky, might get some heat into the small kitchen as well. When I took over, I am afraid we decided not to go ahead with these mini-dwellings, but we tried to put in standards that would be lasting, supportive of the well-being of individuals and their families, and sustainable in terms of the different uses to which they would be put.
In the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, the word “safety” is also used. We should be planning, as we age, to stay in dwellings—as well as moving to more suitable accommodation—because they have been planned or redesigned to allow that. Doing it from the beginning is obviously a great deal more affordable, but doing it now will save an enormous amount of resources in future. I said, on the Healthy Homes Bill, that if in Lanarkshire and west Yorkshire, Rowntree and Cadbury, and even Wedgwood—who was not the greatest of employers but understood entirely that his workers could not come to work and be able to work if they did not live in healthy homes—could do that all those years ago, surely we can get it right now. It is beholden on us to ensure that the guidance and support from the centre encourages the best possible practice at local level.
To finish, one of my very long-standing friends was canvassing in the local elections in Sheffield a week or two ago. He came across a Labour Party member who said she was not going to vote Labour on this occasion. When he asked why, she said it was because the Labour Party would impose 15-minute neighbourhoods in which people would be forced to live in a very confined area, and she was against it. Well, I am against it as well; it is not Labour Party policy. So I will put a word out as a vice president of the TCPA. When planners come up with very good ideas about how we should be able to reach good facilities easily and in a carbon-neutral way, and when we encourage people to rebuild the communities of the past in new ways—as people would aspire to do in villages if, as we discussed last Monday, they were not being taken over by holiday homes—we have to be very careful in the language we use, because there are people on the internet who believe that the best intentions of many people are somehow a conspiracy. We live in a crazy world; we need to get it right.
My Lords, I am glad that today we have the opportunity to consider the health and well-being dimensions of planning. It is my view that development planning cannot be truly successful if it does not also enhance health and well-being. I speak first in favour of Amendment 188 and Amendments 394 to 399 from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. The right reverend Prelates the Lord Bishop of London, the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford, the Lord Bishop of Manchester and the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, who have previously spoken on these issues, regret they cannot be in their place today. However, I have no doubt they would want to give their support to these amendments were they in the Chamber.
I am sure noble Lords will recall stories of what can happen when living conditions deteriorate. Awaab Ishak’s death in December 2020 from a respiratory condition caused by “extensive mould” was an incredibly tragic story, as was that of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah’s death, partly caused by toxic air near where she lived. It is welcome that the Government are working to deliver Awaab’s Law through the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill and that Ella’s Law, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, continues its journey through Parliament in the other place.
Today, we have the opportunity to put health and well-being at the heart of regulating our built environment: an essential step to preventing such awful outcomes and instead facilitating the flourishing of individuals and communities. The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, set out the healthy homes principles for new housing stock. Those 11 principles range from safety
“in relation to the risk of fire”
“year-round thermal comfort”
and more. Surely these are planning standards that we all can agree are good to uphold.
Not only that but, as we have heard, these principles would significantly benefit the public purse. Research by the Building Research Establishment found that 2.6 million homes in England—roughly 11% of them—were of poor quality and hazardous to their occupants. As a result, those poor-quality homes cost the NHS, as we have heard, up to £1.4 billion every year. My view echoes that of the Archbishops’ housing commission that
“good housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying”.
Such housing would significantly reduce the strain placed on the NHS. I believe these amendments to be a valuable addition to this Bill.
The Government have acknowledged that housing and health are key to the levelling-up agenda. However, the Bill as it stands contains no clear provisions that achieve that objective. I echo the challenge to the assertion made by the Minister’s all-Peers letter of 27 January that the healthy homes provisions are being dealt with by existing laws or alternative policy. While the NPPF and national technical housing standards cover some elements of issues addressed by these principles, these are not mandatory legal duties for local decision makers, and nor is there an overall statutory duty on the Secretary of State to uphold the healthy homes principles. Therefore, I hope the Government will accept these amendments.
Amendment 241, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, would also be an invaluable addition to the Bill. Its introduction of a new statutory duty to reduce health inequalities and improve well-being would also help the Government to address poor health, described in their own levelling up White Paper, as we have heard, as
“One of the gravest inequalities faced by our most disadvantaged communities”.
By requiring local authorities to include policies that meet this objective in their local development plans, his amendment will help to transform our built environments into spaces that help create good health and well-being, and, as such, reduce health inequalities.
As pointed out by the Better Planning Coalition, this proposed new clause is a necessary addition given that pre-existing documents and provisions have not been sufficient to stop the growing health inequalities in recent years. I refer to research by Professor Sir Michael Marmot of the Institute of Health Equity, which found that the health gap between wealthy and deprived areas grew between 2010 and 2020. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider this amendment.
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet and the fact that I have a family member currently working in the energy efficiency space. I added my name to Amendment 484, which was so comprehensively explained by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Best. It concerns an important and underrecognised area in terms of climate change and the reduction of emissions. I hope that the Minister will take it very seriously.
I have tabled Amendment 504GF in this group, which deals with the urgent need to make progress in energy efficiency through a warmer homes and businesses action plan. The contributions already made today show clearly the synergy between the amendments on healthy homes and my amendment on energy efficiency. The health of those who live in the UK’s housing stock which is damp, cold or leaky, and worse than the housing stock in most of Europe, is impacted day in and day out by the conditions in which they live. We should all be concerned about this, but it is not only the health of those of our fellow citizens that would be addressed by taking action on energy efficiency, such as insulation or new forms of heating.
Investing in insulation and decarbonisation has many other benefits for individuals and society. It reduces costs not only for bill payers but for the taxpayer, who is currently spending vast sums subsidising energy bills through the energy price guarantee. It helps to reduce greenhouse gases and improve our air quality. It contributes to our net-zero target and, in an increasingly unstable world, electrifying the heat in our homes and making them energy efficient has become an issue of national security as well. Yet we appear as a nation to be in a position of stasis on energy efficiency.
Short-term scheme after short-term scheme underdelivers, damaging confidence that the wider task can be achieved. Scandalously, hundreds of thousands of homes are being built every year which will require future retrofitting because we did not implement the standards early enough. We have our most vulnerable citizens living in fuel poverty in cold and leaky homes. We have an industry largely waiting for confirmation from the Government before they get on with what will be a huge job of scaling up the market and developing the skills we need. Insulating, retrofitting and installing low-carbon technology all play a significant role, but so too do the planning system, funding and government leadership. We need to make the progress that will bring with it good jobs, economic security and benefits in reducing our carbon emissions.
I fear that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, will think that she is experiencing Groundhog Day because many of these points were made in relation to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill. She knows my concerns in this area: that we need a consistent long-term approach and to follow the advice of many committees, not least the Economic Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House. There is never much dissent from the proposition that this needs to be done; rather, there is the idea that we do not need another strategy as we have lots of those. I cannot deny that: there has been strategy after strategy and consultation after consultation. There have not been so many responses to consultation, but we have had many of those things.
My amendment is phrased in terms of an action plan, setting out what we actually need to see the Government do and achieve in the short term. Rather than repeating what I have said in the past, and boring the Minister stupid, I will only quote from a report published today. It is the National Infrastructure Commission’s Infrastructure Progress Review, published in relation to energy efficiency, and it makes a compelling case. It criticises the
“negligible advances in improving the energy efficiency of UK homes, the installation of low carbon heating solutions or securing a sustainable balance of water supply and demand”.
The report points out:
“The government has set an ambition for at least 600,000 heat pumps to be installed each year by 2028, but only around 55,000 were installed in 2021”.
Meanwhile, 1.5 million gas boilers were fitted.
The report also proposes
“Fewer, but bigger and better interventions from central government”.
with tighter strategic focus on the areas where they can make the most difference. Rather than expending
“too much effort on many small scale funding interventions and repeated consultations, trying to maintain optionality in all areas”.
The conclusion I take from it, and the quote that I am trying to implement in my amendment is that
“A concrete plan for delivering energy efficiency improvements is required, with a particular focus on driving action in homes and facilitating the investment needed”.
I believe that this amendment fits absolutely with the amendments that we have been debating on healthy homes and the health of individuals. I hope the Minister will be able to support it.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has put before the Committee a powerful programme, which is actually a renewal programme for our country and for every community and household within it. He set out a compelling case for doing so, obviously based on a lot of campaigning skill and professional skill as well. Other noble Lords have added a lot of detail about the benefits that would come.
I have put my name to seven of the amendments. I do not plan to say everything that has already been said. However, I will pick up one or two points that have already arisen. First, we can anticipate that the Minister is going to say, “Don’t worry, it is all fixed. Everything is already included”. I say to the Minister that our confidence in that would certainly be improved if we did not have a record of permitted development rights which have put into play not just a few but tens of thousands of homes that are deliberately below the standards mandated for and expected of all other new homes. The Government apparently support the Healthy Homes Bill in principle, but you have to get past the principle. All the work has been done by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. It is all here. All the Minister needs to say is, “That’s fine, we will accept the amendments”.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby spoke about the impact on health in communities. I would add life expectancy in communities. There is a very significant connection between well-being and life expectancy and the number of healthy years that people can expect to live. It is surely the essence of the levelling-up agenda that those discrepancies and disparities are put right. I hope to hear some favourable words from the Minister, particularly as it is the next big step needed at a time when the traditional reliance on economic growth as the sole measurement of a country’s strength and resilience is losing traction.
It is losing traction not just with pale green fringe operators such as me but with tens of thousands of ordinary households around the country, which have seen all the economic growth bypass them completely. They have seen a standstill in their living standards, with little hope of progression. Building their resilience and well-being, leading to community growth, is the way ahead. It is, surely, a direction of travel that the Minister can accept. Almost by definition, the biggest losers of the mirage of growth of the last decade are those most in need of levelling up, which this Bill is supposed to be delivering. I urge the Government to listen to this debate with great care and convey to their colleagues in Whitehall the urgency of responding in a positive way to all that they hear today on this pivotal issue.
I have also put my name to Amendment 484 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. The noble Lord made a compelling case for improving our 23 million homes and all other buildings in England to support the health and well-being of those who live in them and to make them carbon-neutral. If I had spotted it in time, I would have certainly added my name to Amendment 504GF in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I agree with every word she used.
I remind noble Lords that I am an honorary fellow of the ICE and an honorary president of the National Home Improvement Council. I also lay claim to steering through the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004 in the other place, which set in train the subsequent uplifting of building standards on energy performance. However, that does not give me any grounds for complacency.
As the noble Baroness said in introducing her amendment, we have been building homes to a lower standard in energy-efficiency terms than we needed to, because in 2016 the new Conservative Government scrapped the move to zero-carbon standards which the coalition Government had signed off. We have built, pretty slowly and with lots of hiccups, 1 million new homes since then to lower standards than would have been the case if those proposals had come into force in 2016. That means that those 1 million homes themselves will have to be upgraded before we get to the standard required by 2050.
Of course, I have already mentioned the rush of converted homes under permitted development rights. It is not just energy performance that is bad but even basics such as daylighting may be missing in their case. The Town and Country Planning Association drew attention to that in its brief. Again, I have been pre-empted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby quoting the Building Research Establishment figures of the millions of people living in unhealthy homes with hazardous conditions far away from the well-being that should be the case—all of whom would be beneficiaries of a fresh start with a healthy homes policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, pointed out that the existing regulations are not tough enough even to capture all operational carbon emissions, which are responsible for about 30% of our carbon emissions. It is not a small slice, but he is also right in saying that the slice is declining because slowly we are decarbonising the way that we run our homes. However, the still provisional date of 2025 to finally catch up with the standards that were going to come in 2016 means that every lost year is adding more poor-quality housing stock and building in costs for the future.
Amendment 484 aims higher and goes further in requiring the Secretary of State to get cracking on the regulations to measure and limit the whole-life carbon emissions of buildings. The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, has laid out very clearly what that is and how it can be achieved. This is not a wild swing at an impossible task; it is based on serious and important work by those who have been developing the Part Z initiative to be a new part of the building regulations. It has, as he said, the backing of the industry as well as many others. I hope again that we can hear the Minister say that there will not be any more dilly-dallying in the department, that it is moving forward to see what its version of Part Z would be and will be bringing it to us in the form of regulations very shortly. Just for once I will not make my traditional complaint about too many regulations. This is one that is needed, and it is needed very quickly.
That is a practical first step to cutting carbon emissions from our built environment. It opens the way to thinking in new ways about how to use and reuse existing buildings—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Best, also made. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say and I look forward to hearing that he is going to take back to the department and to his officials that the route to zero carbon needs to be taken seriously and that the need to level up by adopting the healthy homes standards set out in these amendments should be followed through. If, in response to all of this, the answer is no and the intention to act is “not at all”, Ministers can expect to hear more about all these issues on Report.
My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to Amendment 241 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I support the various amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has tabled on healthy homes, and other amendments in this group.
I start by taking my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who said, rightly, that we need to be open and explicit in what we are asking for. That is quite a straightforward challenge. I suspect that most people in this country want to live in congenial and liveable neighbourhoods where kids can walk to school, where there is somewhere to play outdoors in the holidays, where older folks can pop along to a local shop, perhaps bumping into a neighbour along the way; neighbourhoods in which we design out pollution, obesity and crime. All of that is the art of the possible. Not doing so, even though in the short term it may appear that it will be more costly to get it right, has hidden long-term costs for the taxpayer, which a number of noble Lords have mentioned—whether that is obesity, pollution or crime. The fact is that these decisions, when they are made in the built environment, have consequences which last for a generation. Bad decisions have consequences which spill over for many years to come.
I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is going to speak shortly. I hope he will not regard it as unpatriotic of me to say that, perhaps in the mid-20th century, our shared fair city of Birmingham might be an example that still lives on of how to get it wrong. Herbert Manzoni was the city surveyor and engineer for nearly three decades. He was the man who got rid of trams, gave us three ring roads and ensured that, by the early 1970s, nearly two-thirds of the tower blocks—the new estates—were built on the outer ring road or beyond it. That is a sort of worked example down the generations of what we do not want.
On the other hand, we have the example set by Nye Bevan, who, as noble Lords will recall, was a Minister not only of health but of housing. He insisted that the designs for new homes would include space standards, heating and indoor toilets at a time when nearly two-thirds of the houses in the Rhondda valley had no indoor toilet. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has promised to share with us a photo album of disastrous developments that are occurring in the here and now. So this is not merely of historic interest; it is quite obvious that, right now, the planning system is not giving us the neighbourhoods and homes that we require.
I am not naive enough to think that the amendments in this group are, by themselves, such that if we do not have them we will have disaster and if we do have them we will have triumph. However, were these amendments to see their way through into legislation, they would put our fingers on the scale and increase the probability that we will get better planning decisions in the future. Certainly, in the recent past, the NHS has tried to engage in this agenda through the so-called Healthy New Towns initiative—with only limited success because, frankly, the planning framework was weighted against incorporating these kinds of decisions into what is required.
As this Bill has gone through Committee, we have come back time and time again to the question as to whether it is more than just a recitation of missions. We have had a debate about metrics, but I would argue that we are missing a third M, which is “mechanisms”: mechanisms by which things will actually improve in the real world. I suggest that, rather than regarding this group of amendments as exploratory or testing amendments, the Government might regard them as substantive propositions that, hopefully, the House will return to on Report, because they provide one such mechanism for bringing about real-world improvements in health and the congeniality of living across our country.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but am also attracted to others in this group. I note what the noble Baroness said about the synergy of the amendments in this group, which relate to health, housing and energy efficiency, and I think that is quite true. I declare my interests as set out in the register and note that I am also a member of Peers for the Planet.
The amendment in my name and in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Foster of Bath and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is not overly prescriptive. It simply requires the Government to set out details of how buildings can be decarbonised and become more energy efficient. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has set out, this can be achieved in a variety of ways. It is for the Government to set out the precise trajectory, but it is important that that trajectory is set.
Your Lordships have debated similar amendments to other Bills, as the noble Baroness has said. There might be an element of Groundhog Day, certainly for the Minister; but I think there is an element of Groundhog Day for the rest of us as well, because it is normally met with the cry of either “It is already being done”—which I think is open to question—or “It does not need to be done”, which is certainly open to question. I hope, therefore, that we can, ahead of Report, agree some constructive moves on how we can improve some of the oldest housing stock in Europe; the need to update and enhance that housing stock is very clear.
The benefits of fixing the old and leaking properties are not limited to simply helping people with their bills, although it will of course do that. It is not simply a question of creating more jobs in the green economy, although it would do that too. It is also, in an increasingly unstable world, with geopolitical complexities that we see every day, important that we modify our buildings, that they become more energy efficient and that we are able to be more energy self-sufficient. Also, as has been noted by the noble Baroness, we are looking at this in terms of pressure on public resources. This will enable the Government and the country to spend less on subsidising people’s energy bills if those bills come down. So it is a win-win in just about every situation.
Homes with good insulation, a heat pump and solar panels will pay 60% of the average UK energy bill. That is a considerable achievement and something that we should be looking to do. We need progress in the area. The Government should demonstrate leadership in this area at a time when we have seen leadership fail elsewhere, notably in the United States when President Trump withdrew the US from the Paris climate change agreement. That now has been rectified by the current President, but there is every need for action internationally on climate change. There is a pressing imperative for us to do more. So I hope the Government will accept this amendment—certainly the spirit of this amendment—and sit down and discuss how we can achieve things, not just on this amendment but on others in this group. I lend my support to the noble Baroness’s amendment.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. I particularly want to speak to Amendments 241 and 504GF, which essentially seek to embrace the planning system within wider health and well-being and health-inequality policies. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to be positive in his response.
I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, rather took me back when he mentioned Herbert Manzoni, who was city engineer in Birmingham from 1935 to 1963.When I became a councillor in Birmingham in 1980, I was reliably informed in the induction programme that the Manzoni plans were kept in the safe in the city engineer’s office, and that policy on roads in the city continued to be dictated not by the political control of the city council but by what Manzoni had drawn in his plans.
I have seen academic arguments that suggest that, by the late 1970s, the city had started to change; but I think it was actually in the 1990s when the proposals to bypass Kings Heath/Moseley with a huge dual carriageway, along the lines of the Aston Expressway, were defeated by a group of people, including my wife Selina Stewart, called Birmingham United Against the Motorway Plans. When the noble Lord described the kind of neighbourhood that he thought we would all want to live in, he was, of course, describing Kings Heath as is, as a result of that campaign. Later in the year, of course, we will see the reopening of Kings Heath railway station, which will be the pièce de resistance of the wonderful community that I live in, in the most beautiful city in this country.
I want to make three points just to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Young, said. We know that the scale of health inequalities in this country is frighteningly large. The work produced by Oxford University and the London School of Tropical Medicine last week showed that, in 1952, the UK had one of the best life-expectancy records of any country. We have now slipped down to the low 20s, and the widening gap between the poorest and the richest people is really quite frightening and extraordinary. In the context of a levelling-up Bill, surely we have to focus on it.
Secondly, we know that local authorities have long had a tradition of seeking to improve public health. Prior to 1974, they were the principal public health bodies; from 2012, they resumed that position. During Covid, the directors of public health in particular showed their mettle when they had to take some very tough decisions at the local level.
Various mechanisms enable local authorities to influence health: health and well-being boards and, under the new arrangements of the integrated care system, integrated care partnerships. Those are all designed to give local government more say in the direction of health and, by definition, in dealing with health inequalities. The issue is whether they have enough beef: do they have the levers to make their potential influence felt? We obviously know their role in planning, air quality, the environment, leisure and various other facets. We know that they can have a really important role for health, but so far that influence has been patchy. We are seeking here to put some levers in place to use the planning system to enhance the promotion of good public health and tackling health inequalities.
There will be discussions between now and Report because it is clear that warmer homes comes within that wider context. In the end, I hope the House can assert itself to ensure that, within the planning system and guidance, a reflection on the need for planning to contribute to overall health will be part of local authorities’ responsibilities in the future.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in the group and will speak briefly in favour of Amendments 188 and 241, on reducing health inequalities and improving well-being. These excellent amendments pick up the theme of Amendment 28, ably spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis of Summertown, and to which I added my name. All of these amendments emphasise the importance of walkable neighbourhoods and safe walking and cycling routes in nature to improve health and well-being, which is one of the themes of this debate.
I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority, which is collaborating with local health providers and volunteers to encourage not only disadvantaged groups but individuals with specific health challenges to make better use of the downs.
There is an increasing body of evidence to show that access to nature and green spaces has a positive impact on health and well-being outcomes. It can help to address a range of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and loneliness. The Government themselves have accepted the health benefits of access to nature in pursuing the idea of social prescribing pilots, which also have the benefit of cutting back on expensive and often ineffective drug prescriptions. The NHS has supported social prescribing being rolled out on a local basis, but this can work only if there are the facilities and infrastructure to expand access to nature and walking therapies. These amendments would enable joined-up government policies, in a way that is all too often lacking. That would require local planning authorities to have special regard to the desirability of 20-minute neighbourhoods and access to nature.
This is not just an issue of health outcomes; it is also fundamental for inequalities. In her earlier contribution, the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, quoted a Public Health England report which says that
“the most affluent 20% of wards in England have five times the amount of parks or general green space compared with the most deprived 10% of wards”.
We know that those living in the poorest and most nature-depleted areas also suffer the impact of premature death and illness from air pollution.
There is an urgent need to rescue abandoned and neglected community areas to recreate green space and plant more trees. There is also a need to create green pathways and networks that can lead out to larger areas of green parks and waterways. We should encourage communities’ rights to reclaim unused and derelict land for microparks and growing spaces to feed their neighbourhoods. This should be built into the planning system in the way that these amendments require, and I very much hope that the Minister will feel able to support them. If the Government do not feel able to provide that support today, I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Young, will return to this on Report.
My Lords, I feel compelled to say, “Hear, hear”, every time a noble Lord gets up to speak on this. As a chartered surveyor, I am, in effect, a witness of evidence to the fact here, having spent a very large part of my career looking at and advising on older buildings, defective modern buildings and everything in between. I support all the amendments in this group, which are at the heart of what we know needs to be delivered by way of appropriate housing standards. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for his untiring efforts on the healthy homes standard; he deserves all of our appreciation for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, referred to one of the typical government answers: that it is covered by current practices and regulation, to paraphrase what he said. I wish. I share what I believe is his scepticism about this. The intentions are not reflected in the delivery of the product—its design and durability are not delivered. There are some very good and conscientious designs, where the whole thing has been very well overseen and really useful and good neighbourhoods have been created. However, there are other developments whose quality, frankly, is like Tinseltown. When you talk to some of the residents, they say, “This building is never going to last”—that seems a terrible indictment, for the reasons that the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Ravensdale, made clear. It is one thing to reduce the components for energy conservation to a respectable minimum, but it is another thing to shorten the life by one-third, two-thirds or maybe more. When you think of the mass-produced Victorian buildings that are still in use today, you wonder whether some of these modern buildings will last anywhere near as long. There is a disconnect here.
The healthy homes principles fundamentally pivot on the provision of security, satisfaction and comfort to occupiers in dwellings that do not challenge or undermine their work/life balance—the right reverend Prelate made that point, and I say hurrah to that. The daily existence of occupiers must at least be secure and unfettered by external concerns—they have enough trouble with bringing up their children, their daily work and that sort of thing without being challenged and destabilised by what is concerning them in their home and its construction, and in their immediate environment. We need neighbourhoods and layouts that work and we need homes that are cherished; if they are cherished, they are looked after and then they last longer. If they are not, it almost does not matter how well they are constructed; deterioration and dereliction will set in, which is an attrition of the built environment. Maybe there is a disconnect between planning control on the one hand and the design and construction of the delivery systems on the other. These amendments seem designed to close that gap, which is fundamental.
I will concentrate on a few of the problems; I stress that they are not universal but they are frequent enough to warrant concern in my view. I am thinking of condensation, noise and spatial conflicts such as bin storage interfering with parking space and so on—such things that could be designed out. One needs to consider badly designed artificial lighting, and perhaps poor daylighting, and areas in developments that are in some way conducive to criminal activity of one sort or another, as was mentioned. I point out also components in installations that seem to fail prematurely, and finishes on the outside of buildings that seem to have quite a short life expectancy—I am not talking about timber weatherboard or something like that, which will deteriorate over time; I am talking about cementitious products that you would expect to have a 25-year or 30-year life, but which are not meeting anywhere near that standard.
To that, we can add things such as bad conveyancing, where there are built-in conflicts in the very legal title and the entitlement somebody feels they have. These are the sorts of things that create totally unnecessary disputes between neighbours.
While I am talking about that, I will address the problem of rent charges on common-realm areas that have to be managed. Very often, these occur because the process of the common realm now, in some of these developments, is such that local authorities do not want to adopt common realms as part of their remit, so something else has to be set up. But because they are complicated—they may involve surface water attenuation and other things like that—they are inevitably likely to create cost centres. The rent-charge management companies are then passed on to companies that specialise in this area, and that is where we can get the increases in cost that then affect people’s ability to sell and to get mortgages, because the cost is more than the proportion of the value of the building that lenders will accept. This is not just a bad conceptual design but a bad legal conceptual design. I believe that local government has a role and some control here, so we need to deal with these things to create robust standards.
To close the circle, I will say that I live in a house that was built in 1678. When I first went to live there, many would have regarded it as a rather large heat sieve. I have gone around plugging most of the bigger rat holes that have occurred in the interim, post construction. But this is not just about energy use, although that is a very important thing. Energy use is probably the major net present value of energy component; that tends to be the situation. I see my noble friend Lord Ravensdale nodding at that. But, if we can make sure that the buildings we build today will last at least as long as some of those Victorian buildings—so they are built in a robust style with things that do not fall apart, so people feel that they are not then threatened by continual recurring costs of making good and patching up—we will tick boxes in terms of energy, on the one hand, and human satisfaction and commitment for the long term, on the other. That must make a lot of sense.
My Lords, there appears to be a clear consensus across your Lordships’ House that we need to improve the mental and physical health and overall well-being of citizens, and that we can do that, in part, by improving the area around where people live and the homes in which they live.
Amendment 241, to which I have added my name, and which was powerfully introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, deals with the issue of the area around people’s homes and how it could be improved. A very good example of that is access to nature, and it is worth remembering that the Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, very recently said:
“Nature is vital for our survival, crucial to our food security, clean air, and clean water as well as health and well-being”.
So access to nature is important for health and well-being purposes, as well as the other things that she mentioned.
When I was a Minister in what was then the Department for Communities and Local Government, I had a responsibility, for a while, for green spaces, and I had an opportunity to see some tremendous work being done by some planners. However, I was very acutely aware of the enormous pressures that they were under to achieve further access to green spaces. They faced huge conflicts, where many other issues often took priority over access to green spaces, and therefore priority over citizens’ health.
As part of the Government’s recently announced plans for nature recovery—which, in part, we were discussing in relation to earlier amendments—the House will know that the Government have set a target to ensure that everyone will live within 15 minutes of a green space or water, but, unfortunately, there is very little detail expressing how that will be achieved. So one of the benefits of Amendment 241, it seems to me, is that it will help the Government achieve that particular objective. However, as others have said, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, this is about more than just access to green spaces: it is about access to amenities and being able to get to them easily by walking, wheeling or cycling, which are all forms of exercise that improve health.
It is worth noting that in 2021 Sustrans carried out a survey that found that walking, wheeling and cycling together prevented almost 130,000 serious long-term health conditions every year. Yet we are still building developments that are far from existing settlements, and where you cannot even buy a pint—perhaps I should say a litre these days—of milk, or at least you will not be able to until a later phase of development. So people have to resort to using their cars or, where it is available, public transport, thereby again reducing exercise opportunities.
Planning departments can play a role in enabling people to exercise as part of their everyday lives, but they need help. We know from the Sustrans survey that 64% of planners who responded called for “robust … guidance or regulation” to help them prioritise health and well-being. I believe that this amendment—which is based, as we have heard, on the 20-minute neighbourhood approach—would help achieve that, while also providing the flexibility that planners need because they know their area best.
As we have heard, subsequent amendments in the group look at ways in which we can improve the housing in which people live in order to improve their overall well-being. Like others, I pay enormous tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for the work he has done leading so many of us in the direction he has taken us with his string of amendments, which I very much hope will be incorporated, in some form, in the final version of the Bill.
I will pick up on one aspect that is not covered by his amendments, but is covered by Amendment 504GF, which was very well introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and to which I have added my name. It does not deal with new homes being built but looks at existing properties and how they could be improved to help the health and well-being of their residents and to achieve our net-zero target.
One of the reasons I am particularly attracted to this amendment—there are many others—is that it introduces into legislation targets for improving the energy efficiency of existing properties. As the Minister knows, this is an issue that I have raised on very many occasions in your Lordships’ House. I am always pointing out that there are 17 million homes that are currently below the acceptable energy efficiency level. In one of my many attempts to do this, I referred three years ago to the report by the Climate Change Committee, UK Housing: Fit for the Future?, which assessed the preparedness of our housing stock for the challenge of climate change. It concluded that the measures to reduce
“emissions … from the UK’s 29 million homes”—
responsible for 17% of all carbon emissions—had
“stalled, while energy use in homes”
had increased, and adaptations of housing stock to meet the impact of climate change were
“lagging far behind what is needed to keep us safe and comfortable”.
Three years on, the CCC’s most recent report shows that the situation is still dire. The decline in work to retrofit existing properties has hardly been halted. It says:
“Installation rates for building insulation have plummeted over the last decade, and are far below the level they need to be”
to deliver on UK climate targets.
Of course, as I have said in your Lordships’ House on previous occasions, I welcome a number of recent initiatives by this Government—ECO+, for example, and the announcement only three days ago of £1.4 billion to improve energy efficiency in social housing, although it is from a pot that was previously announced—and I look forward to hearing plans from the newly established Energy Efficiency Taskforce.
However, whatever that task force does, it will come up against a significant problem, because the latest research by the New Economics Foundation has shown that anyone hoping to cut their energy bills by adding insulation, solar panels, double-glazing or heat pumps face years-long waits to upgrade because there is now a shortfall of 200,000 installation workers. There are simply no longer the people out there to do the work: however much we all want them to do it, they simply will not be there. That is the problem I raised several years ago, when I warned your Lordships’ House that we had to take action and listen to what the industry wanted. At that time, I quoted the chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, who said:
“On far too many occasions the energy efficiency industry has been made promises by Governments, only to see them withdrawn. This has resulted in the laying off of staff, the loss of investment and the closure of factories.”
As the Climate Change Committee has argued, there needed to have been greater policy certainty, since the absence of such certainty has led to skill gaps and lack of investment in the construction, design and development of new technologies for the urgently needed major refit programme. What the industry said it wanted several years ago and has consistently said year in, year out, is that if it is going to invest in skills, training and the equipment and the technology, it needs to have the certainty that the work is going to be there for it to do. It says the way it will get that certainty is by having the targets the Government keep repeating placed into legislation.
Placing targets in legislation is something the Government have said time and again they believe in. They have done it for a whole range of things, including for the Climate Change Act itself, yet they refuse to do it for the energy-efficiency target. The amendment that the noble Baroness introduced places those targets into legislation and offers an opportunity to get together to find and work on a way forward to help the industry rapidly build up the number of staff to do the work. I hope that, on this occasion, the Government will listen.
My Lords, I hope the Lords spiritual will forgive me for borrowing from their script, but I feel like I am in green heaven, because everything I have just been hearing from all sides of the Committee is what I and the Green Party have been banging on about for the last decade and, indeed, much longer. I was looking back at an interview I did with Red Pepper just after I was elected as Green leader in 2012, talking about how people were being left in cold homes, mourning something that has not been mentioned tonight but that we really should talk about: the hideous level of the UK’s excess winter deaths. That picks up the point from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the way our society is going backwards in life expectancy, particularly healthy life expectancy.
Green policy for decades has said that environmental and social justice are indivisible. By environment, we mean the physical built environment as well as the natural environment. So you will not find any Green names on any of these amendments, because we did not need to be there. Nearly all these amendments have full cross-party backing, including from the Conservative Party, and non-party backing—and I join many others in applauding the huge amount of work done by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on the issue of buildings. All this fits together. In Oral Questions earlier today, in a debate about diets, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, said that it is not just about diets; it is also about exercise. Well, how about we have homes built with active transport in mind; how about we have walking paths, cycling paths and safe ways to get around?
The noble Lord just referred to access to nature and a children’s right to nature. How about we write that into law and say that every child has that right? The proposals in this amendment point us in that direction and put them, crucially, into the Bill. I am not going to repeat everything that has been said, because so much has been said. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, picked up something I have long been banging on about, and that is security by design. Rather than talking about bobbies on the beat, rather than trying to deal with the problem we have already created, let us build out the problem of neighbourhoods that work for people and that are secure.
I am going to really restrain myself here, because I could just get so excited hearing so many things that I agree with from every side of the Committee, but I will not: I am going to do the classic Green thing and point out some hard truths. One of these is that, while I said this was green heaven, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, put some silver sprinkles on that heaven by bringing up growth. We have had growth for decades; we have chased GDP growth and look where it has got us. Look at the actual fabric of our society, the utter ill health, mental and physical, of our society. I say to both of the largest parties, who are currently waging a political duel about who can offer more growth: let us talk about the healthy society that the amendments here would collectively put together in the Bill.
The other awkward truth is what is behind all this. Who is building these homes that immediately need to be retrofitted to be even basically liveable and healthy? Who is building these homes in places where there is no public transport and no provision for active transport? We have a handful of mass housebuilders who are driven by profit. It is the legal responsibility of the directors to maximise profit, which is why we need these amendments to the Bill. All parts of our society need to see that there are controls on the profit motive, so our society works for people and planet and does not keep being milked for profit at the cost of the rest of us.
We have to have these controls and rules, and these rules have to come from government, and from Parliament if they are not going to come directly from government. I would say that your Lordships’ House has a huge opportunity with this Bill, and not just this Bill: tomorrow, we will be on the Energy Bill; and how about Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, who has a big drive on for solar panels on every suitable new home? Why on earth not? We need to join all this up and make it happen: this is our responsibility to the people of today for the climate, and our responsibility to the people of the future.
My Lords, I have been listening to an excellent debate, and I just want to say one thing that relates to Amendment 484 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and others. I just hope that, when my noble friend is responding or takes some of these very important points away, he responds not simply to the question of what is required in Building Regulations but what is achievable in terms of the sustainable framework for buildings. I declare a registered interest as counsel to Low Associates, which, between 2018 and 2020 was working with the European Commission on Level(s), which is a European Commission sustainable framework for buildings.
Such certification schemes exist. In this country, we have the Building Research Establishment’s environmental assessment method; the Americans have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; in France, they have gone further and legislated in RE 2020. The point I want to make is that, yes, we should focus on what is needed in order to secure an assessment of whole life-cycle carbon emissions in a building, but actually that is not enough, in my view. We should be increasingly looking at greenhouse gas emissions in total, at a circular economy and the reuse and recycling of materials, including in the demolition of buildings or the repurposing of buildings. We should be looking at water use and water resources. And we can put these, as many organisations increasingly do in certification schemes, in formats that are also very relevant to the performance assessment, including the cost assessment, of buildings, for those who have to invest in buildings, and indeed, in the public sector for those whose job it is to procure buildings.
We have structures that are available. We can see both voluntary schemes and—in the case of France and one or two others—legislative schemes that can focus on the broader environmental, health-related and social objectives of our buildings. These schemes recognise that, across Europe, 36% of greenhouse gas emissions are derived from our building stock. We have to deal with this; it is a central part of our environmental objectives. I hope Ministers are looking at both the statutory minimum requirements and a certification process that encourages the whole industry to move to a higher level of performance.
My Lords, yesterday I had the privilege of walking along a body of water called Frenchman’s Creek, which—some noble Lords may know—was made famous by the novel of Daphne du Maurier. I was walking through what is one of the remains of the UK’s temperate rainforest. I was in a green space, and I was next to a blue space, which fed out into the Helford River, which went out into the channel. You could see the ocean beyond that. That is why I support Amendment 241, in particular. This amendment is all about giving everybody access to those green and blue spaces, which is a privilege I have, living in the far south-west of this nation. I was walking, but I might have been running or cycling, although I do not think I would have been wheeling. All those types of exercise are absolutely vital to everybody.
To me, the theme of this debate has been that if we really want to level up, as my noble friend Lord Stunell mentioned, health and life expectancy are fundamental to that. That is why I support Amendment 241 and many others here as well. I hope that the Government will be able to positively respond to that.
My Lords, this has been a very important discussion—a very long discussion—with an awful lot for the Minister to consider, both in his summing up and afterwards. It has been important because it is about how our planning system affects our health. It has also brought some specific tangible changes which could be prioritised to make a difference, and which are currently ignored in the Bill and in the National Planning Policy Framework review. This is despite the fact that there are not just missions on decent homes but missions on narrowing the gap of healthy life expectancy and on improving well-being. If this is a levelling-up Bill, these threads need to go through it. The planning section is an important area whereby we can make changes to health and well-being. I think the link to planning is particularly relevant when you look at homes, home standards and the standards of our future homes. The amendments here address these gaps. If we are genuinely going to make a difference here, we have to put people right at the centre of our planning system.
First, I will look at the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. I have an amendment in this group to probe the supply of healthy homes, but the debate around the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, have clearly covered what my amendment was looking to probe, in a far more effective way. As has already been said, we need to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on his tenacity and refusal to give up on the fact that people’s health and well-being need to be put right at the heart of how we regulate the built environment. We should also congratulate the Town and Country Planning Association and its campaign to do the same. This is a very important issue.
We know that since the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, started his campaign a couple of years ago, the medical evidence surrounding the relationship between the condition of someone’s home and neighbourhood and their life chances has become even stronger. That evidence is there. We supported his earlier Private Member’s Bill on this, and I am very proud to support the amendments he has put forward today. We also know that evidence is growing of the often shockingly poor standards of some new homes that are coming through the deregulated planning system—that is what it is. We know that the Government have acknowledged that housing and health are key to the levelling-up agenda, but we need clear provisions in the Bill to actually achieve that objective.
According to the Building Research Establishment, 2.6 million homes in England—that is 11%—in 2021 were poor-quality and hazardous to occupants. It estimates, as we have heard from others, that the NHS has a huge cost to carry because of the state of some of our homes. We need to recognise that there is an obvious regulatory failure right at the heart of our approach to the built environment. As my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, having healthy warm homes is a complete no-brainer.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, referred to the letter that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Bybrook, wrote to Peers at the end of January. In it, she recognised that housing provision is vital to the mission of levelling up. I will not read from the letter as other noble Lords have done that. It is also important to reiterate that the letter said that the Government should support the objective within the Healthy Homes Bill. If this is genuinely what the Minister and the Government believe, surely they should be accepting these amendments instead of dismissing the specific approach that is taken in the Healthy Homes Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. The provisions are not already being dealt with by existing rules or alternative policies, as the Minister said in her letter. If they are, why are our homes in such a poor state?
The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, talked about the fact that we need mechanisms to bring change. These amendments would bring those mechanisms. He talked about how bad decisions last a generation and beyond. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, talked about good and bad design from his experience. These are the things that the Government should listen to. While we have the existing policy contained in documents—such as the National Planning Policy Framework or national technical housing standards, which cover some of the elements addressed in the healthy homes principles—they are not mandatory legal standards. As such, they can be set aside by local decision-makers.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath articulately outlined how our built environment affects our health. He talked about the widening gap between richest and poorest and the impact of health inequalities. This refers back to that mission. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, mentioned the high number of excess winter deaths. These are all things that can be tackled if we improve our planning regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, suggested that perhaps a revised NPPF could include some revised commitments in this area. It would be a very straightforward thing for the Government to commit to do. The problem is that building regulations are focused on minimum standards of physical safety rather than the proactive promotion of people’s wider health and well-being. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned the terrible outcomes that can result from this particular focus.
Planning law, as we have heard, has no overall legal duty for the Secretary of State to promote health and well-being. It contains very weak provisions on the promotion of sustainable development, but none of them refers to human health and well-being. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch discussed how we can make walking and cycling more readily accessible, as well as the importance of access to nature and green spaces and reclaiming derelict land. The problem is that, because the framework is advisory and discretionary, we do not make any progress. That alone should justify the approach in the Healthy Homes Bill. The need for fundamental change is reinforced by the lack of priority given to health and well-being in national policy, and by the fact that where policy does exist, it is often expressed as a “nice to have”, rather than an essential requirement at the heart of what we should be doing. Will the Minister consider meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, to look at how these proposals can be taken forward? I think there is huge support in this House for what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.
As usual, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, very readily and clearly introduced his Amendment 241. I thank him, because it is extremely important to have an amendment on health inequalities in this debate; it picks up the mission I mentioned earlier and looks to plug that gap in the Bill. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned Professor Sir Michael Marmot. I understand—the noble Lord, Lord Young, may have told me this—that he supports the noble Lord’s Bill. He supported greater use of the planning system to address health inequalities in his landmark Fair Society, Healthy Lives review. The planning sector has taken his work to heart since then, to some extent, but it needs concerted government backing if it is to deliver on what he is proposing.
The noble Lord, Lord Foster, spoke to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and highlighted some specific tools that planners have to address health inequalities. He talked about improving access to nature, allowing for exercise and so on. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also talked about access to green and blue spaces and the importance of that on our health. Professor Marmot said that reducing health inequalities was a matter of fairness and social justice, and I absolutely support those comments. Again, will the Minister take a look at his findings and see if the Government could support them?
I was very pleased to add my name to Amendment 484 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. We have heard that embodied carbon emissions in construction are not regulated, even though they can constitute the bulk of emissions from new buildings. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, the substantial portion of UK carbon emissions that buildings and construction hold are kind of hidden; they are not talked about enough. It is important that this is better recognised and that we look at how we can take action to tackle this.
The noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, explained operational carbon emissions and embodied carbon emissions, the difference between them, and why one is recognised in particular and the other is not, even though the embodied carbon emissions in construction now contribute to an increasing proportion of the whole-life carbon emissions for most buildings. As he said, the problem is that they are not regulated as operational carbon emissions are. That is why his amendment is important, because it recognises that things are moving and changing.
The noble Lord mentioned the Part Z campaign, and I congratulate it for the tremendous work it has done. There is work being done voluntarily in the construction industries on this. The Greater London Authority now requires a whole-life carbon assessment as part of planning for projects over a certain size. As we have heard, this is already happening in other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, talked about schemes that are already available—for example, the sustainable framework for buildings. So, there is precedent for things to happen in this area.
Finally, we absolutely support Amendment 504GF in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. She talked about the synergy between healthy homes and energy efficiency and the impact of damp and cold homes on residents’ health. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is no longer in his place, talked about the fact that we have some of the oldest housing stock in Europe, so we need to do something about this. The noble Baroness explained clearly the importance of her amendment. We believe that the Government need to change their approach to energy efficiency and how they prioritise it going forward. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I declare my interest as the owner of let residential property. As we have heard, all the amendments in this group draw attention in their different ways to the healthy homes agenda, whether relating to the health of the population or that of the planet, as regards both planning policy and the physical delivery of new homes. There is a lot to cover, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me if my response is fairly lengthy.
I begin by paying tribute, as other noble Lords have, to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for the assiduous work he has done in championing the healthy homes agenda—including through his Private Member’s Bill, which is currently proceeding through your Lordships’ House. Amendments 188 and 395 to 399, which articulate the key principles for healthy homes and are supported by Amendments 241 and 281D in this group, transport us back to the Second Reading debate of that Bill, which took place last July. Members of the Committee will recall from that debate that what separated the noble Lord’s position from that of the Government was not any issue of principle around the desirability of healthy homes. Where we had to part company with him—and, I am afraid, must continue to do so—was on the extent to which new legislation should duplicate legal provisions already in place, and, to the extent that it does not duplicate it, how much more prescriptive the law should be about the way in which new housing is planned for and designed.
Healthy homes and neighbourhoods are important for our communities, and it is because of this that our existing laws, systems, planning policy and design guidance all focus on achieving that objective. Indeed, the whole purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. That is why the National Planning Policy Framework already contains very clear policy on sustainable development. It includes good design; how to plan for sustainable modes of transport, including walking and cycling; an integrated approach to the location of housing; economic uses; and the requirement for community services and facilities. It recognises the importance of open space and green infrastructure for health, well-being and recreation, and it contains policies on how to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places.
One part of achieving sustainable development is ensuring that a sufficient number and range of homes can be provided to meet the needs of present and future generations. Local planning authorities should set out an overall strategy for the pattern, scale and design quality of places and make sufficient provision for housing. The framework is clear that planning policies and decisions should promote an effective use of land in meeting the need for homes, while at the same time ensuring safe and healthy living conditions.
The framework sets out that the planning system should support the transition to a low-carbon future. It should help to shape places in ways that contribute to radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, minimise vulnerability and improve resilience, encourage the reuse of existing resources and support renewable and low-carbon energy. Plans should take a proactive approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change, taking into account the long-term implications, in line with the objectives and provisions of the Climate Change Act 2008.
One of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, during the debate on Second Reading of his Healthy Homes Bill—a comment that has been made again this evening—was that a lot of government policy was enshrined in guidance rather than being mandatory. I will just make the point that the National Planning Policy Framework must, as a matter of law, be taken into account in preparing the development plan, and is a material consideration in planning decisions. Our proposals for national development management policies in the Bill will ensure that national policies directed at decision-making have clear and explicit statutory weight in future.
Of course, we want to look for ways of improving the NPPF. That is why the recent consultation on reforms to national planning policy makes it clear that we are intending to review the NPPF to support the programme of changes to the planning system. This will provide a good opportunity to ensure that the NPPF, as well as the new suite of national development management policies, contributes to sustainable development as fully as possible.
In addition, the NPPF does not sit in isolation. Alongside it, the National Design Guide and National Model Design Code illustrate how well-designed places that are beautiful, healthy, greener, enduring and successful can be achieved in practice. Yes, both are guidance documents, but it is appropriate that they should be. They advise local councils on how the 10 characteristics of well-designed places can inform their local plans, guidance, design codes and planning decisions. This includes detailed advice on providing for resource efficiency, climate mitigation and adaptation, safe, inclusive and accessible buildings and public spaces, prioritising walking and cycling, and green space and biodiversity in new development.
On liveable space in new homes, the Government believe that ensuring a good standard and quality of internal space is vital to achieving well-designed and healthy homes for all. National planning policy includes a nationally described space standard, which means that councils have the option to set minimum space standards for new homes in their local area.
To come back on a point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Stunell, among others, the Government also recognise the importance of enforcing these standards in homes delivered through permitted development, so new homes in England, which are delivered without the need to apply for planning permission, must meet this space standard as a minimum.
The National Design Guide reminds local councils of many of the things that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bennett, among others, talked about, that the quality of internal space needs careful consideration in higher-density developments, particularly for family accommodation, where access, privacy, daylight and external amenity space are also important. In addition, the National Model Design Code asks that in preparing design codes, consideration needs to be given to internal layouts that maximise access to natural daylight.
Therefore, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, that I entirely understand the spirit of his amendments and the importance of their subject matter, but we are clear that those matters are already being considered and addressed through existing laws, systems, national planning policy and associated design guidance, and that the balance between those is broadly appropriate.
Amendment 394 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, makes particular reference to the safety of new and existing buildings. The Government have been clear that there must be a strong regulatory regime in place to ensure that buildings are built and maintained safely, and we are undertaking a series of measures to do this. This includes providing £5.1 billion to address the fire safety risks caused by unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings. We are taking forward the Building Safety Act by consulting on a range of regulatory reforms, which will ensure accountability is strengthened and will establish a national building safety regulator, at the heart of our reformed building regulations and fire safety system, in the Health and Safety Executive.
The building safety regulator will make buildings safer by enforcing a stringent new regulatory regime for high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings, overseeing the safety and performance of all buildings, and increasing the competence of those working across the built environment. The building safety regulator will have its own robust new enforcement powers in relation to high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings, and in exercising these will work closely with local authorities, fire and rescue authorities and other regulatory experts.
Building regulations in England set requirements for a range of matters relating to the health and well-being of people in their homes. Building regulations standards for ventilation in homes were recently updated and introduced a new requirement to reduce the risk of overheating. They also contain requirements for ensuring that new buildings are made secure against unauthorised access. In July 2022, following a public consultation, we set out our plans to raise the accessibility standard for all new homes. We intend to consult further on the technical changes to the building regulations to mandate a higher accessibility standard. Research has also recently been completed on the prevalence and demographics of impairment in England, ergonomic requirem