All 31 Earl Howe contributions to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023

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Mon 20th Feb 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments
Wed 25th Oct 2023
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
In essence, what we need is evidence-based, independent scrutiny of statements of missions and metrics that are defined on the face of the Bill—otherwise, I fear that we will be debating this very same thing in five or eight years’ time and coming up with another programme to try to bridge or narrow the gap between the better and worse-off areas of this country. As I live in one of those worse-off areas of the country where there are spatial inequalities, I can tell your Lordships that we are not going to wait any longer.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments addresses a number of important issues around accountability and scrutiny of the levelling-up missions, including looking at the roles of Parliament, the public and academics. I will begin by addressing Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which would require the statement of levelling-up missions to be published within 10 days of Royal Assent. The Government have already been clear that the first statement of missions will be based on the levelling-up White Paper. We have committed within the Bill to publish this statement within one month of Part 1 coming into force. I suggest that this is already a prompt timescale and a realistic one, because it includes time to complete internal procedures before publication and the laying of a report. So I think that further shortening that timescale is unnecessary.

Amendment 24, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, would require mission statements to be approved by Parliament. Amendment 49, also in the noble Lord’s name, would similarly require approval from Parliament and the devolved Governments for any revisions to statements of levelling-up missions. Amendment 25, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, requires a Minister to withdraw the statement if either House of Parliament decides not to approve it.

Let me be quite clear. The Government are committed to enabling Parliament, the public and experts to fully scrutinise our progress against our missions. The missions and metrics will be published in a statement of missions laid before Parliament. The proposed initial set of these metrics has already been published in the levelling-up White Paper and is bound to be refined over time. That really does represent a significant step forward. For the first time, the law will require Ministers to set and publish missions that focus on reducing geographical inequalities.

Our approach to the missions is the same as the approach taken, for example, with the fiscal rules, or indeed with the Government’s mandate to NHS England: they are subject to scrutiny in Parliament but are not set out in law. His Majesty’s Treasury publishes its fiscal rules in a non-legislative policy document, but that is laid in Parliament. This does not in any way prevent the Government being held to account in keeping to their fiscal targets. What matters is the transparency of those targets and of the published data. The missions will be published in a policy document laid before, and debated in, Parliament. The first example of this document will be based on the levelling-up White Paper, as I have said.

As my noble friend made clear, the legislation sets out the framework for the missions, not the missions themselves. The Government are committed to laying and publishing statements of levelling-up missions and annual reports to ensure transparency and scrutiny. To my mind, it would be unthinkable that the Government would not take seriously any analysis, challenge or ideas put forward by Parliament or, indeed, by others outside Parliament and government. Again, what matters is that the missions and metrics should receive scrutiny from Parliament and the public. Ultimately, I would say to my noble friend Lord Lansley that we are dealing here with government policy. Parliament can express a view—Parliament can do whatever it likes—and may well influence policy in the future by doing so, but, in the end, it is the Government who need to be accountable and to take responsibility for their own agenda and the progress they make in fulfilling that agenda. My noble friend’s recent letter to all noble Lords—

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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I think we largely agree on the role of government in determining what the missions and metrics should be, but can my noble friend explain why the principle applied to the national procurement policy statement—that the Government decide what the priorities are and Parliament can debate them and if necessary say that it does not approve of them—is not applied to this important set of policy priorities? Why have the Government put that into legislation currently before the other place but not done the same in relation to this Bill?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I think it was a relatively easy concession for the Government to make in the Procurement Bill because Parliament, as I just said, can decide to do whatever it likes. If any Member of either House wants to table a Motion to Regret against anything the Government are doing, they can do so, and the House as a whole can express its view. If that were to happen—I think it is unlikely—

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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I apologise for pressing my noble friend. I do not think it was a concession by the Government: I think it was written by the Government into the Bill. But, anyway, that is not the point. Is my noble friend saying that, if a statement were to be published and laid before Parliament, and a regret Motion were to be passed against it, the Government would withdraw the statement?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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As I said, it would be extremely unlikely for any government to ignore the view of either House of Parliament if that view had been expressed in the form of a Motion that had been widely supported. Of course, no Government would ever say that they had a monopoly of wisdom in areas such as this. If there are any good ideas coming forward from any source, it is appropriate to review the proposals on the table.

I think we are dancing on the head of a pin here, if I may say so to my noble friend, because it is very likely that government will receive advice from a number of quarters as they go forward with this agenda. As he said, we are having to deal with an extremely complex set of metrics, and we are keen that those with expertise, among whom your Lordships can be numbered, are able to scrutinise the progress that government is making and express a view if they wish to.

My noble friend Lady Scott’s recent letter to your Lordships stated a number of things that perhaps bear repeating. The statement of levelling-up missions will be based on the 12 missions set out in the White Paper. The statement will include detail about the metrics being used to monitor progress. As I mentioned, those metrics will be identical to the technical annexe in the White Paper as progressed by further work undertaken since then. In particular, it might be helpful for noble Lords to note that well-being and pride of place are still being worked on, but that this work is near completion. I hope that we can provide further detail about that quite soon.

Amendments 26 and 32 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, and Amendment 38 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, put forward an independent body or independent evaluation of the missions and progress. The Government of course recognise that scrutiny and seeking expert advice will be important to ensuring that we deliver on our missions and level up the country. That is why we have already established the Levelling Up Advisory Council, chaired by Andy Haldane, to provide government with expert and independent advice to inform the design and delivery of the levelling-up agenda. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned the desirability of having academic and other outside expertise available to the council, and I absolutely agree. The council draws regularly on wider academic, business and other expertise to inform its advice, and includes voices from different parts of the UK.

Appointments to the Levelling Up Advisory Council are made at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and in accordance with the Cabinet Office processes for public appointments. Among the council’s membership are Sally Mapstone of the University of St Andrews, Cathy Gormley-Heenan of Ulster University, and Katherine Bennett, who chairs the Western Gateway, the UK’s first pan-regional partnership to bring together leaders from Wales and western England. I can tell the Committee that the Government will continue to look at ensuring that membership of the Levelling Up Advisory Council represents all parts of the UK. We are indeed already working with the devolved Administrations and with English local government on the levelling-up challenges and will continue to do so.

I will just add a couple of points for the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, in particular. As set out in the technical annexe to the White Paper, the missions largely rest on metrics published by the Office for National Statistics and others, so performance will be transparent and everyone will be able to judge how the Government are doing. That is right because, as I emphasised earlier, government should be accountable.

Amendment 41 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would ensure that an annual report was published before a general election. I have to part company with her on that point; the timings for laying the report before Parliament and publishing documents are, in my view, rightly independent of the electoral cycle, as is the case for other key government frameworks such as the Charter for Budget Responsibility. The purpose of laying reports is to allow for Parliament to hold the Government to account on their progress towards the missions, and the Bill requires the Government to publish reports as soon “as is reasonably practicable”. Levelling up is a challenging, long-term agenda which cannot be achieved within a single electoral cycle. The framework for missions which we are establishing here reflects that long-term vision.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, has raised some significant points in her amendments in this group. The first is to include in the Bill the engagement of local authorities in reporting on levelling up in their areas. My noble friend Lord Shipley said in our debate on the previous group how there has been an obsession in government, from Governments across the decades, with ruling England from Westminster and Whitehall down to minute areas of decision-making. Certainly on this side of the House, we believe that local people and their locally and democratically elected representatives are best placed in this context to determine what areas within their council boundaries would best benefit from the levelling-up missions and funding. They would also be able to report on them because they have a depth of understanding and data that would help to make clear what progress has or has not been made.

That is a point well made, as is the point that the National Planning Policy Framework, which is currently in review, will relate to many of the missions in the Bill. Are we going to build new homes that are car-reliant or will we ensure that they can access public transport? Are we going to make them safe places in a safe environment for housing? Is there going to be in the framework allocation of land so that businesses are in appropriate places and are accessible for people who want jobs? All of that means that that is a very important point well made. No doubt it will be pursued at later stages of the Bill.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, looks at the role of local government and the National Planning Policy Framework in delivering levelling up.

First, Amendment 39 would mean that county councils, unitary authorities and combined county authorities would publish annual reports on the delivery of levelling-up missions. I hardly need to re-emphasise that local authorities and local leaders have a crucial role to play in levelling up places across the UK. Empowering local leaders, including through agreeing devolution deals and simplifying the funding landscape, is a cornerstone of the levelling-up agenda.

This principle of empowerment is absolutely critical. Noble Lords have tended to criticise the Government for any suggestion of the centre telling local authorities what to do; writing this amendment into the Bill might appear to do just that. Having said that, many organisations outside central government, including All-Party Parliamentary Groups, academics, business bodies, think tanks and local organisations, have been debating and scrutinising the levelling-up agenda and how it could be taken forward in particular areas of the country; I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. The provisions on reporting in the Bill will further enable such independent assessment and thinking but requiring local authorities to report in this way, as I think the noble Baroness herself recognised, would surely be disproportionate and unnecessary.

Amendment 55 would mean that a Minister must publish a report on the impacts of this legislation on local government and a strategy to consider how this part of the Bill will impact local authorities through future legislation. The new burdens doctrine, established and maintained by successive Governments, requires all Whitehall departments to justify why new duties, powers, targets and other bureaucratic burdens should be placed on local authorities, as well as how much such policies and initiatives will cost and where the money will come from to pay for them. It is very clear that anything which issues a new expectation on the sector should be assessed for new burdens. As the Government develop new policies to deliver against their levelling-up missions, they will fully assess the impact on local authorities and properly fund the net additional cost of all new burdens placed on them. Therefore, this provision already ensures that the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies, legislation and programmes on local government and fully fund any new burdens arising.

Amendment 54 would mean that a Minister must publish draft legislation for ensuring that the National Planning Policy Framework has regard to the levelling-up missions. Although it would not be appropriate to legislate to embed the levelling-up missions in planning policy, the levelling-up missions are nevertheless government policy. Planning policy to achieve these will be a relevant consideration when developing local plans and determining planning applications.

The department is currently consulting on updating the National Planning Policy Framework. The consultation document was published in December 2022 and the consultation is due to close in March 2023. It sets out a number of areas where changes to national planning policy might be made to reflect the ambitious agenda set out in the levelling up White Paper, and invites ideas for planning policies which respondents think could be included in a new framework to help achieve the 12 levelling-up missions in the levelling up White Paper. The department will respond to this consultation by the spring of 2023 so that policy changes can take effect as soon as possible.

In summary, I suggest that these amendments, though well intended, are unnecessary. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her Amendment 39 and not move Amendments 54 and 55.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for his thoughtful response. On the first amendment, Amendment 39, I explained that I thought that perhaps the wording was a little confusing. I did not intend to impose a burdensome doctrine on my colleagues in local government; I do not think that they would have forgiven me if I had done that—I want to walk out of here unscathed. I think that is really important. However, it is important that local government understands what its role is going to be in measuring and monitoring the success or otherwise of the levelling-up missions. I will withdraw my amendment, but I hope that Ministers will consider how local government is going to take part in that essential exercise of determining whether the levelling-up missions have been successful and, just as government departments are going to have to pull that together, how local government will be required to do so.

In relation to the second amendment, Amendment 54, I understand that the National Planning Policy Framework is being revised at the moment. I hope that it will be revised with the levelling-up missions embedded in it, because that will help clarify matters for local government. When we get legislation coming forward without the documents to support it, it is difficult to say whether that is going to happen. I hope we will get the opportunity to have good scrutiny of the National Planning Policy Framework when it comes forward so that we can make our decision at the time about whether it actually works in terms of having a countrywide set of levelling-up missions.

On the last of my amendments, Amendment 55, it is always good to hear that financial aspects are being taken into account. I understand all about the new burdens funding—which, I have to say, sometimes works and sometimes does not in practice—but that was not exactly the point that I was making. I was referring to how local government contributes to those missions. We have the Levelling Up Advisory Council, which I presume is going to draw together the work of different departments and how they contribute. My point was about how we make that assessment as legislation is issued and how that legislation contributes to the missions. If this is to be the biggest change we are going to have across local government, then surely it is important that any legislation coming forward talks about the contribution that it is going to make. Of course, it will need funding, and I would welcome new burdens funding for new challenges that it brings with it, but we also need to understand how it works in terms of new legislation that will come forward. I am grateful to the noble Earl for his response.

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We know this concluded in October, so it would be very helpful if the Minister could give us some idea of when we are likely to see the Government’s response to this, because clearly it is going to be critical to making progress on this mission—as is all the housing legislation that my noble friend referred to. If we are going to genuinely move forward and manage the levelling-up challenges of housing, we need to move forward on the promised legislation. In particular, as my noble friend said, when are going to see the abolition of leaseholder tenure? Reform is not good enough; it is where we want to move forward, so I await the response with interest.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as we have heard loud and clear from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in his introduction to this group, Amendments 42 and 43 relate to leasehold reform in the context of the levelling- up housing mission. They provide me with a good opportunity to bring the Committee up to date on the Government’s plans for reform in this policy area, and the action that we are taking now. However, I should first declare my interest as set out in the register as the beneficial owner of a freehold property that is subject to a long lease.

At the end of January, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up set out his intention in Parliament to bring, as he put it, the “outdated and feudal” leasehold system to an end. The Government wish to extend the benefits of freehold ownership to more home owners, and that is why we have committed to end the sale of new leasehold houses and to reinvigorate commonhold so that it can finally be a genuine alternative to leasehold. It is why we have limited the charging of ground rent, as my noble friend mentioned, in most new residential leases, which takes away the incentive to build leasehold. It is why we will make it easier for leaseholders to purchase the freehold of their building and take control of their building management by enhancing enfranchisement and the right to manage.

Leasehold and commonhold reform will support the mission to level up home ownership and promote true home ownership for all by fundamentally correcting the power imbalance at the heart of the leasehold system and putting the power into the rightful hands of home owners. The Government’s reform package is advancing this agenda by building on the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act, which aims to make home ownership fairer and more transparent for thousands of future leaseholders by preventing landlords under new residential long leases requiring a leaseholder to pay a financial ground rent.

Furthermore, thousands of existing leaseholders have already seen a reduction in their inflated ground rent costs as part of the ongoing Competition and Markets Authority investigation into potential mis-selling and unfair terms in the leasehold sector. The Government are encouraging developers of all sizes to come to the negotiating table if they have not already.

The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, referred to insurance. There are several issues around insurance, as I am sure he is aware. One of them is that leaseholders are often unable to gain visibility of the costs that make up their premiums, and nor do they have useful routes to challenge these. We will act by arming leaseholders with more information and will ensure that leaseholders are not subject to unjustified legal costs and can claim their legal costs back from their landlord.

The Government are committed to delivering the second phase of their major two-part leasehold reform within this Parliament. I am afraid the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, will have to wait for the detail of the Bill but, as he has pressed me on the question of reform or abolition, I can do no better than refer him again to my right honourable friend’s words. He made clear his intention to bring the system of leasehold to an end.

As part of these reforms, the Government remain committed to better protecting and empowering leaseholders, first, by giving them more information on what their costs cover, as I have alluded to, and, secondly, by ensuring they are not subject to any unjustified legal costs and can claim their own legal costs from their landlord.

My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham sought to press me on pre-legislative scrutiny. At this stage I can simply say that the Government welcome the work and engagement of noble Lords and other parliamentarians to date on leasehold and commonhold reform. We will of course consider how best to involve Peers, Select Committees, Members of Parliament and wider stakeholders in the development of any future legislation.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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Would the best way to achieve the ambition my noble friend has just set out not be to publish the draft Bill?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, we fully understand the desire for urgency in this area. The Minister, my noble friend Lady Scott, has made this clear at this Dispatch Box previously. As I hope my noble friend Lord Young knows, her department is working very hard indeed on this policy area.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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Can the noble Earl confirm whether there is a draft Bill? That would be useful. Can he also maybe give us a bit more on the definition of “urgent”?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I do not think I can add to what I have already said. I shall endeavour to ascertain the state of play on the drafting of the Bill. I will gladly tell the noble Lord if there is any further information on that, but I do not have it to hand.

Given the extent of government action on these priorities set out elsewhere in policy, and the approach I have outlined to setting a clear, systematic and long- lasting framework for levelling-up missions, I hope that for now this provides the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, with sufficient assurance to enable him to withdraw Amendment 42.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in this debate. I also —I should have done this when I spoke originally—thank the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for signing my Amendment 42. I am very appreciative.

In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, highlighted the problems of the opaqueness of the Government’s actions. It is all still a bit grey, and that is an issue. He also raised a very important point. We do not know whether the Bill is there yet, but apparently there is something there. If it appears in the King’s Speech, the other risk is that it will be the last Session of this Parliament and we all know that things drop off at the end and do not happen. The noble Lord made that point well, and the Government should take note of it. We would not want to get a Bill but then see it disappear because, “Sorry, we’re now going to the general election and we’ll have to come back to it afterwards”. That would not be a good place to be at all.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, made the point that many leaseholders were first-time buyers and often live in areas where the Government want to level up. In this levelling-up Bill we would hope to do something for those people and help them level up. In the worst cases, people are treated appallingly by rogue managing agents and rogue freeholders. There was a very good article in the Financial Times recently. There is a huge insurance scandal coming down the track with what has been going on with managing agents and leaseholders. It is absolutely outrageous; they are just ripping people off.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for his support and welcome him to the cause. It is good to have him on board. If we ever meet in future, we will make sure we invite him. I was delighted to learn that he is now a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I should probably declare that I am as well. I look forward to us working hand in hand on this in the coming weeks and months.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, for his support on this. These are probing amendments, but it is important that we air these issues here and ensure that we get the Government to be absolutely clear where they are. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for her support as well—it is much appreciated—and my noble friend Lady Hayman.

I thank the noble Earl for his response, but I was hoping for a bit more. I have been in this House for nearly 13 years and have always been very impressed by him, so I was hoping for a little more. Maybe we will come back to this again.

I am still not quite clear where we are on reform or abolition. What we are going to do here is still a little vague. Maybe that is why we are not yet getting the draft Bill that may or may not be produced. At the moment, some leasehold campaigners think the Government are going to abolish leasehold and are saying, “What a wonderful thing to do; it’s really great news that the Government are going to do this”. Another group thinks the Government are going to reform it. They are not doing both, clearly, and they are not being clear about what they are going to do. They are going to disappoint quite a lot of people before the next election, and I think they should reflect carefully on that. They need to be much clearer what their intention is. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said, if they have the draft Bill, they should just publish it and help everybody.

I will leave it there. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for tabling this amendment. It is really interesting, and I was very interested in what he had to say about the possibilities this opens up. It is important to encourage the Government to consider how automation and robots can help, not hamper, the levelling-up agenda, and how they can be part of making a difference. Automation and robotics can bring enormous possibilities to improve Britain’s productivity and boost the national economy. This is clearly a really important part of what underpins the White Paper and its objectives, but it will be realised only if the Government can actually harness that potential.

There have been ad hoc announcements relating to robotics. For example, Defra has promised new funding for agriculture and horticulture automation and robotics. However, what we do not have is an overarching strategy to ensure that the benefits of this kind of technological development can be felt equally across the board, and there are so many different areas that noble Lords referred to where this can be used.

Similarly, it seems that there is no concerted effort to negate the harmful effects of automation on the future of work. Workers are rightly concerned when they hear about automation coming into the businesses and factories in which they work. That is partly because, for too long, many workers have been at the wrong end of automation and have suffered as a result of their labour being casualised. It is really important that this be addressed, so I would be interested to hear if the Minister has an update on steps following the 2022 Future of Work review. If the Minister commented on how that could take forward robotics and automation in the workforce, that would be very helpful.

Having said that, our ambition for automation and robotics should extend far beyond just negating any negative impacts. The Government should be considering how they can make the UK a destination of choice for investment in these emerging technologies. It was interesting to hear the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, say that we are in a really low position in this regard. I was quite surprised by that, because I have always thought of us as an inventive country and society. There is ground to be made up here, and it seems that, unfortunately, a lack of skills is presenting a common barrier. As announced, the Labour Party believes that a “Skills England” body should be set up to address the current skills shortages. There should be a national effort to upskill Britain, which would allow us to meet the future challenges of automation and other emerging trends in our economy. Will the Government consider whether replacing the Unit for Future Skills would allow automation and robotics to better support the levelling-up agenda?

Finally, any prosperity that results from emerging technologies in the UK needs to be distributed a long way beyond just the south-east of England, which, unfortunately, is where it is mainly focused at the moment. As part of the levelling-up agenda, it is important that these emerging technologies, skills training and where businesses are deciding to invest are properly monitored, and that local authorities become part of that. The noble Baroness spoke earlier about the importance of working with local authorities on other parts of the levelling-up agenda. Engaging with local authorities on future opportunities to invest in automation and robotics will be really important if we are to spread the benefit and make the most of automation and robotics for the future of our economy.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 43A, in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, would oblige the Government to publish a report that considers establishing a taskforce to help increase effective use of robotics and automation and consider the impact on regional disparities. I am grateful to my noble friend for bringing us to this important set of issues, which have major implications for the levelling-up agenda.

It is perfectly true that the UK lags behind the global average when it comes to adopting robotics technology, and this is holding back UK manufacturing productivity. There are, of course, shining exceptions to that general statement. The nuclear fusion cluster around Culham in Oxfordshire has been described as the UK’s Silicon Valley for nuclear fusion robotics and will play a key role in maintaining fusion power plants. The UK Atomic Energy Authority’s RACE programme is at the forefront of developing robotic technology. Nevertheless, we are ranked the lowest in the G7 for robot density and 24th globally.

What are the barriers to adoption? The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, put her finger on one of the main ones, which is technical skills. We lack those technical skills. However, apart from skills, there are three others that I am afraid have held us back: leadership and management skills, access to finance, and investment appetite.

I am in full agreement with my noble friend in wanting more manufacturers to adopt technology that will improve productivity and stimulate growth, such as robotics and automation, and we have programmes that support them to do this. This includes the Made Smarter programme, which has committed almost £200 million in funding to manufacturers—large, small and medium enterprises—to develop new technology solutions and adopt existing tech, including robotics and autonomous systems.

The £24 million Made Smarter adoption programme is available to manufacturing small and medium enterprises in the north-west, the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the east Midlands and West Midlands regions. The programme provides expert advice, grant funding and leadership training to SMEs to help them adopt robotics, automation and autonomous systems, as well as other industrial digital technologies that can improve productivity and growth.

We are also considering what further to do in this field. We convene a Robotics Growth Partnership, chaired by Professor David Lane and Paul Clarke, which works with robotics and autonomous systems sector leaders across academia and industry to put the UK at the cutting edge of the smart robotics revolution ambition, turbocharging—as we would like to call it—economic productivity and unlocking benefits across society. Last year the Robotics Growth Partnership published a vision for cyber physical infrastructure, and the Government will shortly publish their consultation response on that subject.

The levelling-up mission on R&D, designed to increase the amount of R&D funding outside the greater south-east, and accompanying initiatives such as innovation accelerators, will help to provide additional support to areas with existing expertise in robotics such as the Glasgow City region. The Derry/Londonderry and Strabane region city deal will also see investment in the region’s Centre for Industrial Digitalisation, Robotics and Automation. The Levelling Up Advisory Council has also committed to exploring how to improve the uptake of productivity-enhancing technologies by businesses as part of its work considering regional adoption and diffusion.

I hope that my noble friend will find what I have said a source of some good cheer. The Government are well aware of how important this agenda is, and while at the moment a task force is not thought necessary, should the Government find it desirable to establish a task force in future, it would not be necessary to legislate to establish one. I therefore hope that my noble friend will feel sufficiently reassured to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, I thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for her comments; I agree entirely with her comments on skills. If we are to gain all the advantages of the new technologies—the fourth industrial revolution—it will be this combination of skills, the right immigration policy and robotics, and all the new technologies that are at our fingertips right now. I thank in particular my noble friend the Minister for a very full, thorough, detailed and positive answer. I am certainly aware of the initiatives that he has set out and it is excellent to have them all now on the record.

We need, however, a target—something to aim at —because we should be on the podium when it comes to this. Currently, we are not even in the B final. So we may want to return to this in some form on Report and certainly see whether something can be done to tie this very clearly to the overall levelling-up mission that I know that we are all so fully committed to. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Leader of the House

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 51 and 52 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, just pointed out, these amendments relate to consultant spend by councils and regional director spends, and their roles in the Government’s levelling-up agenda.

Amendment 51 is important, as the noble Baroness just pointed out. A freedom of information request showed that in the 245 upper and lower-tier councils, £26.9 million has been spent on levelling-up bids. That is £26.9 million taken away from social care, housing, cleaning, street cleaning and bin collection at a time when councils are finding things particularly difficult. Of that money, the vast majority went to external consultants. Does the Minister think it right that £26.9 million should be used on a lottery process pitting town against town and city against city to bid for levelling-up funds, only for the Government to move the goalposts at the last second by changing the criteria against which councils are bidding, which means not only that this money could have been spent on other services but that it has been wasted?

On Amendment 52, I wish to start with a general point, and here I do not necessarily share the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock. The concept of 12 regional directors controlled out of Whitehall somehow being the panacea for devolution is ludicrous. Let us be clear: what this will turn out to be is a system of crude decentralisation. Those of us who have been around for quite a while in local government know that when we had something similar in the past, the regional directors of the department dispersed to work with local area partnership boards came with “We are here to help and support you” as their mantra. However, they were used as government enforcers and the eyes and ears of government, going back to the department and saying which areas were in the good books and who should be put on the naughty step because they were not carrying out the Government’s agenda.

Reports back from such regional directors decided who got money and what sticks or carrots were deployed. I know that the noble Earl will pour out soothing words from the Dispatch Box, saying that is not the role, but history shows that it is. Look at the job advert issued in November 2022—it kind of gives the game away. It says that they will report progress to the newly established committee for levelling-up, which is exactly the same as the previous directors in the department did.

We are now told that these regional directors are on hold, but that they could be answerable and accountable to the mayors. Let us take Yorkshire as a region, as these are regional directors. We could have four mayors in Yorkshire with different agendas and from different political persuasions. To which mayor will the regional director be accountable—one of them or all of them? It is clear that these roles have not been thought through from a regional perspective but from an office in Whitehall, with a very Londoncentric view of how they can be used as government enforcers.

Talking of Yorkshire, we are a little perplexed—not that we are from Yorkshire, but perhaps the Minister can help with this. Civil Service World on 17 February had an interesting headline, stating that the department

“hires former … No. 10 official as levelling-up director.”

Ed Whiting, David Cameron’s former deputy private secretary has been hired, and he very helpfully tweeted that he has been recruited to the role of levelling-up director in the north, based in and working out of Leeds:

“I’ll be based in Leeds, hoping to be travelling round North”,


working with local councils and others on innovation. He also expects to travel to London often too—ah, yes, that newly established Cabinet committee for levelling-up has to be informed. He goes on, quite incredibly—he has been hired on a six-figure salary—to say that “details” of the new role are “tbc”.

We are perplexed, Minister, and some clarification would be helpful. Is Mr Whiting a regional director for levelling up and, if not, what is his role and how does it fit with the regional directors? When was he recruited, where was the job advert and who sat on the recruitment panel? Why have local authorities in the north not been informed officially who he is and how he is there to help them? Why has someone been recruited on a six-figure salary when their role is still to be confirmed?

That is why Amendment 52 is important. We need transparency and clarity on who the department is using in the regions and what roles they have, to ensure the Government do not establish an expensive decentralized bureaucracy, costing the taxpayers millions, trying to enforce their agenda in local areas.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as we have heard, this group of amendments is related to consultants and the Government’s appointment of levelling-up directors. Specifically, Amendment 51, in the name of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage, would require the Government to publish an estimate of how much local authorities have spent on consultants in relation to Part 1 of the Bill. I fear that requiring local authorities to report in this way would be disproportionate and unnecessary, but let me explain why.

The new burdens doctrine, established and maintained by successive Governments, requires all Whitehall departments to justify why new duties, powers, targets and other bureaucratic burdens should be placed on local authorities, as well as how much these policies and initiatives will cost and where the money will come from to pay for them. This provision already ensures that the Government must properly consider the impact of their policies, legislation and programmes on local government and fully fund any new burdens arising.

Further, local authorities are already bound by the Local Government Transparency Code, which mandates local authorities to publish data on all expenditure over £500 in open and accessible formats. I will come back to that point in a second, but I have a great deal of sympathy with the points made by the noble Baroness about expenditure by central government on consultants.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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Will the Minister clarify something? When he says that the Government fully fund any new burdens, does that mean that the Government are reimbursing local authorities for the cost of creating their bids?

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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It would depend on the circumstances. It would depend on whether the expenditure on consultants was classified as a truly new burden or not, and that is an arcane science on which I do not pretend to be expert. Perhaps I may provide the noble Baroness with clarification in writing on that point, because I recognise that it is of relevance.

As I was saying, I have a great deal of sympathy with the noble Baroness’s points on expenditure by central government on consultants. As a matter of principle, I think all Secretaries of State across government would agree that they should impose a self-denying ordinance on their departments where skills can be developed in-house. Where that can happen, it should. The problem is, I suggest, twofold. First, the skills needed are very often highly specialised; secondly, if one looks across government as a whole, it is very difficult to make general statements about the needs of individual departments. However, I think the noble Baroness and I are aligned in our antipathy to expenditure that may turn out to be unnecessary—certainly expenditure that turns out to be wasteful. No department wants to go down that road.

On expenditure, transparency, as so often, is key. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, about consultancy expenditure by local authorities in preparing their bids. I would just say to him that the decision by some local authorities to appoint consultants in their bidding process was a decision for them, and such decisions will doubtless have reflected in part the point that I just made: that the necessary skills are not always on tap locally. I think that is all I can say about that, but I will write on his questions about Mr Whiting, as I do not have the necessary briefing on that in front of me.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I want to ask a specific question, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, also asked. Has any regional director been appointed? That is the key question, particularly about Mr Whiting.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am coming to Amendment 52 in a second. It might be helpful if I added a few comments about local government funding more generally, because we recognise that the sheer number of different funds has become onerous for some councils to navigate and deliver. We have taken initial steps to address this complexity in the funding landscape. For example, the levelling-up fund provides cross-departmental capital investment in local infrastructure, and the UK shared prosperity fund provides resource-focused investment to support people, boost pride in place and strengthen communities. However, the levelling-up White Paper made it clear that we can do more, and we will set out a plan on funding simplification shortly.

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Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I have listened to this debate very carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, talked about Yorkshire, which he clearly knows well. Apparently, this new director will be based in Leeds. Several times “the north” was referred to—but does “the north” include west of the Pennines or is that a different area? What is the geographical boundary of these things, or is it still fluctuating?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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It is open for decision. We want to see local areas taking the initiative themselves. Where there is a functioning economic hub, for example, or a whole county, they may wish to apply for CCA status, but it is up to them to make those decisions. One can talk in general terms of “the north”, but until we know that the appetite is in those northern areas for taking advantage of the opportunities that we are trying to create, I cannot be more specific.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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For clarity, the issue with Mr Whiting, to whom I referred, is that, as the Minister helpfully said, no regional director has been appointed so far. However, Mr Whiting describes himself as a regional director for the north and not for a particular region. Therefore, it is important that, when the Minister writes to me, he clarifies exactly what Mr Whiting’s role is and how it fits with the regional directors.

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Therefore, if combined authorities do not have prior public debate and prior consultation and approval, what we get is the creation of another remote institution making decisions for local areas without direct accountability for them. Can the Minister explain what policies and proposals of combined county authorities can be questioned and challenged before final decisions are made? Currently, scrutiny arrangements in combined authorities are of the implementation and outcomes of decisions. I am keen to hear from the Minister whether the Government support the idea of pre-decision scrutiny to help to improve outcomes and involve more elected representations. In that way, more local people—or, certainly, their elected representatives—will have a say in any policies and priorities that are set out by the combined authorities. I support these two amendments and look forward to the reply.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments relates to the area of a combined county authority, the new type of local government institution being provided for in Part 2 of this Bill. Provisions in this part support the delivery of the local leadership mission of the levelling-up White Paper, to enable by

“2030, every part of England that wants one”

to

“ have a devolution deal with powers at or approaching the highest level of devolution and a simplified, long-term funding settlement.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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I am sorry to interrupt so early in the Minister’s response, but could he define more clearly what the “highest level of devolution” actually means?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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If the noble Baroness will bear with me, I shall do my best on that.

Noble Lords will be aware that 10 combined authorities have been established since 2011 in our city regions. However, we recognise that such authorities might not be so appropriate for non-metropolitan areas. The new model of combined county authorities is more appropriate for non-metropolitan areas, many of which have two-tier local government. It enables the establishment of a single institution covering a functional economic area, or whole county geography, which would be a suitable institution to provide effective leadership over an appropriate geography to qualify for a devolution deal.

I take on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, about local government funding, but it might be helpful if I added a little to the information I gave the Committee in the last group of amendments. Our intention is to set out a plan for streamlining the funding landscape, as I mentioned, to provide greater flexibility for local authorities and make it easier to navigate opportunities for growth. This will include streamlining local growth funds, reducing inefficiency and bureaucracy and giving local government the flexibility it needs to deliver for local economies. As part of this work, we expect that there will be fewer small competitions. Where competitive funds do exist, we will look to streamline bidding and support greater alignment between revenue and capital sources. We will also consider the monitoring and evaluation requirements to ensure that places have robust, proportionate, ongoing monitoring and evaluation plans for the impact and delivery of investments and spending.

Amendment 60, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, seeks to allow part of a two-tier county council area to be included in a combined county authority, rather than the whole county council area. This would not be consistent with the policy we set out in the White Paper, whereby we will devolve to an institution covering a whole county geography or functional economic area. I will come on in a moment to the rationale for that model. In a combined county authority, such as the intended East Midlands CCA, the upper-tier councils within the area covered by a combined county authority are the constituent members of the CCA. There is no upper-tier council that covers part of a two-tier county council’s area; the only upper tier council is that two-tier county council, whose area covers a wider geography. As such, as the two-tier county council will be the constituent member of the combined county authority, the whole area that the council covers must be part of CCA’s area.

Moreover, allowing part of a two-tier county council’s area to be part of a combined county authority would not be consistent with the levelling-up White Paper’s principle of devolution being to institutions covering functional economic areas or whole county geographies, over which a number of functions should be exercised for maximum effect. Splitting the responsibility for such functions could also lead to discrepancies—

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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Can the Minister explain, then, where the geographies of a county area do not coincide with the geographies of an economic or travel-to-work area? Often, they do not. What I have heard is that you can either have a functioning geography of a county and its two tiers, or the alternative, but not a mixture of the two.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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May I add to what my noble colleagues have said? This goes to the heart of this amendment. We struggle to say how you can have a county with more than one functioning economic area included in that county. To take my county as an example, the south of the county largely relates to London, because some of the boroughs almost are London boroughs, whereas the north of the county relates much more to Cambridge and Bedfordshire. There are definitely two distinct, functioning economic areas within one shire county. The shire counties go back centuries: their economic geographies have changed very considerably since then. If you take the economic geography of my noble friend Lady Hayman’s area, people in Cumbria may even relate to an economic area that includes parts of Scotland. This is not a simple picture around the country.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Some extremely sensible and logical points have just been made. Perhaps I could address them by pointing out the contrast to what we have seen up to now. Devolution deals, up to now, have typically been put in place in city regions, where they cover the functional geographies in which people travel, commute, work and live.

The Government absolutely recognise that functional economic geographies are far less clear-cut in rural and semi-urban areas, and that the strategic scale and cultural and political resonance of county identities can act as a useful proxy. One can work only on the basis of best endeavours when trying to decide what a sensible area looks like. On a best endeavours basis, deals should be agreed over a sensible geography of a functional economic area, with a single institution in place across that geographic footprint to access more powers. That is the aim.

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Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but he keeps talking about complexity. This is complexity of boundary, not of reality. I will give him a situation where complexity may hold back the levelling-up agenda. Let us again take the top end of the east Midlands and South Yorkshire. If both the South Yorkshire combined authority and the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire combined authority have control of the skills money, the fact that probably about half the people from the north end of the east Midlands come up into South Yorkshire means that the skills required should be funded for jobs available in the South Yorkshire combined authority. If the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire combined authority decides not to invest in that type of skill, the issue is that the flow of labour will not be there for South Yorkshire businesses. How does that kind of problem get solved? It is not an administrative issue but the reality of having the skills where real people and businesses travel and work together.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I take the noble Lord’s point. The experience we have had with combined authorities is that local authorities’ natural tendency is to co-operate with each other. We have seen this all over the place: they do not want to operate in silos and they look outside their boundaries. Yes, there may well be cases where at the beginning there would seem not to be a particularly good fit, but that does not preclude two authorities, such as those he mentioned, getting together and finding a way through, if they possibly can, to address the mismatches of the kind he mentioned.

Amendment 99 seeks to amend Clause 23 to require a public consultation before any proposal to change the area of an existing combined county authority. We agree that those with an interest in the area should be consulted before a combined county authority is changed. As I said, we will have more to say about this in the debate on the next group of amendments.

Clauses 45 and 46 set out a requirement for a public consultation on any proposals from the local area on changes to the area of a CCA. Where a combined county authority has been established and subsequently seeks to change its boundary, Clause 23 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations for areas to achieve that. The Secretary of State may make regulations changing the area of a CCA if that is something the area consents to, the Secretary of State agrees and Parliament approves the necessary secondary legislation.

We fully recognise the crucial importance of residents in the local area having a say; that is common ground between us. That is why any CCA or local authority seeking to submit a proposal to the Secretary of State to change the area of a CCA must carry out a public consultation, as set out in Clause 45(3). This consultation must take place in the area covered by the CCA. This enables local residents, businesses and other interested parties to have a strong input into any such proposals. A summary of consultation responses is then to be submitted to the Secretary of State alongside the proposal.

Clause 46 provides an additional safeguard to ensure that there is sufficient public consultation. This enables the Secretary of State to undertake a consultation prior to making any regulations to enact these changes if they feel that there has been insufficient public involvement in their development.

We completely agree with the sentiment of Amendment 99, but I suggest that we already have provisions later in the Bill to address this; we will debate some of these in a few moments. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw Amendment 60 and not to move Amendment 99 when it is reached.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I am pleased we tabled these probing amendments, because they have brought out some of the discussion we needed to have in these areas. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, for her comments. She said that “combined county authority” is a misnomer, and I think she is absolutely correct.

Previous responses indicate that we could include unitaries and counties all within a two-tier area. It is not clear in the Bill what that might mean. In the example of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, with the overlap of economic areas and travel-to-work areas, et cetera, the geography is far more complicated than back in whatever century it was when the county shire boundaries were devised. The purpose of my amendment was to determine whether parts of a two-tier area would be required to join a CCA if it did not work for them. It is really important that we do some more probing around this and think about it more.

We did not get on to the subject of population, which I will come to in a minute. My concern with this is that we have the phrase that the Secretary of State can determine “by regulation” what a combined county authority will look like. That does not seem to me to be in the spirit of devolution in any way whatever. If it is for the Secretary of State to determine that by regulation, I would be interested to know the noble Earl’s view on how that would be conducted in relation to the partners in the local area.

I am grateful for the noble Earl’s extensive response on this, which is an indication that we are moving the debate forward somewhat. I will come back to the issue of the functional economic area. These are not neatly contained now within county council areas. We have heard a few examples of that. We need to focus on that and think about how we might amend the Bill to recognise that.

The noble Earl spoke about streamlining funding. I was grateful for those comments and I am sure they will be welcomed across local government, but when will we see the detail of how that streamlining of funding will work? If he has any more information on that, it would be helpful.

I have a lot of sympathy with what the noble Earl said about city regions. They make a lot more sense—I spent quite a lot of time with colleagues in the city region in Manchester looking at how that works. However, that does not mean that that model can be lifted and put down in areas that are very different in this country. The difficulties that we have set out underline exactly why there must be flexibility for local areas to consider for themselves what the appropriate geography might be for them.

I return to the issue of population size. In previous iterations of these bids for devolution, we were told that any bid under 600,000 population would not be considered. My county of Hertfordshire has a population of 1.2 billion—sorry, 1.2 million; I am exaggerating—which is a very different issue from a rural county that might have a population of only 300,000. That is why this is much more complicated in shire areas. Will the noble Earl comment on whether population issues will be taken into consideration in relation to the size and constitution of combined county authority areas?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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It may be helpful to the noble Baroness if I comment on that specific question. We expect upper tier local authorities with a population of less than 500,000 to collaborate with their neighbouring authorities to agree a sensible geography for a devolution deal. Where neighbouring local authorities wish to join a deal which has been negotiated and have the same level of ambition, we will expect other authorities to take this seriously in order to secure devolution and to avoid areas being stranded. Once again, I come back to the point I made earlier that our experience with combined authorities has shown that this kind of co-operation takes place quite readily. That is the position we have taken currently.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble Earl for his clarification. It covers one side of the picture with the smaller county areas. However, larger county areas, where the population may not lean towards a single county authority, should still be a subject for discussion.

I agree that we have several amendments relating to consultation processes and that the other amendment in this group probably sits better with those, so I am happy to postpone discussion of that until the future group. However, the principle of consultation, and recognising the importance of local areas having a say, seems to be enshrined for all the other issues around the setting up and dissolution of a CCA. If it is right for those, it must be right for a change of boundaries too. That is the point we were trying to make with Amendment 99. That said, we have had a useful discussion and I am happy to withdraw Amendment 60 at this stage.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as we have heard, this group of amendments covers preconditions for establishing, and indeed disestablishing, a combined county authority. This process is locally led and it aligns with the process for a combined authority that we have seen successfully used in many areas to date.

Amendment 61, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to insert a requirement into Clause 7 that the Secretary of State can establish a combined county authority via regulations only if they deem there to be at least 60% support from local residents in the area to be covered by the CCA. In a similar vein, Amendment 127, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks to insert a requirement into Clause 44 for there to be a referendum before the Secretary of State may make regulations to establish a combined county authority, and for this question to be approved by a majority of local government electors.

We do want to ensure that the local public, in the broadest sense, are consulted on a proposal to establish a combined county authority in their area. This desire on the Government’s part is already captured by the requirement for a consultation provided for in Clause 43. Clause 43(4) states that, prior to submitting a proposal for a combined county authority to the Secretary of State, the local authorities proposing the establishment of a CCA must undertake a public consultation on the proposal in the area that the CCA will cover.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked, perfectly reasonably, what a proper consultation would look like. One important element is that it would have to cover the waterfront, as it were, in terms of stakeholders, to get a real sense of the strength of feeling and the climate of opinion in an area, and the extent to which an authority has taken the trouble to represent the scope of that opinion and feeling in the submission it makes. Once the consultation has happened, the authorities must submit a summary of consultation responses to the Secretary of State alongside their proposal.

When deciding whether to make the regulations to establish a combined county authority for an area, one of the tests the Secretary of State must consider is whether the area’s public consultation is sufficient. That is a judgment the Secretary of State must make in the light of the information presented, but if they conclude that it has not been sufficient, Clause 44 provides that the Secretary of State must undertake a public consultation before any regulations can be made.

I noted the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and will take advice on why that clause is worded as it is. I suggest to her that there is nothing sinister in it—it is the way that these legal provisions have to be drafted—but the net effect is as I have described, because what we wanted to introduce was a safety net, as it were, of a further Secretary of State-initiated consultation if that was deemed necessary. I hope the fact that we have done that demonstrates the importance which the Government attach to the consultation process.

We believe that the existing clauses provide for sufficient local consultation. I hope the way I have outlined the provisions and what we intend them to do in practice has persuaded the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that a referendum would be unreasonably burdensome. What we want, above all, is transparency of local opinion and that I hope we will get.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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Many examples are flashing through my head, but I am thinking about one particular local government consultation that I saw, which happened to be around the city of Chester. The consultation asked, “Do you want to build on the green belt in areas A, B, C, D or E?”. Many local people pointed out to me that they wanted to say, “None of the above”, but there was no space in the box or provision to do that. So can the Minister reassure me that part of the Secretary of State’s examination of the summary of consultation responses will look at whether the consultation truly gave the space for local opinion to be expressed?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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That is certainly the aim. I do not know whether the noble Baroness would agree with me that one of the downsides of referendums that we have seen in the past is that people are asked to take a binary decision. That very often does not allow for the nuances and subtleties of an issue to be presented in the question, to put it at its mildest. So we think the consultation model is more appropriate for this type of situation, particularly as the different constituent elements of a community will have different interests and viewpoints on the issue in question.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is clear that, even barring a referendum, under Clause 44(3)(c) the Secretary of State will ask for further consultation if they consider that it is required. I assume that the Secretary of State will not have a subjective opinion on that and that there will be some objective criteria. It therefore comes back to what my noble friend Lord Shipley said: would it not be wise for the objective criteria about what good consultation is to be shared and, potentially, to be in the Bill? That would stop the position where local authorities had to rerun a consultation because it had not met the criteria which the Secretary of State was looking for in the first place.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Yes, I take the noble Lord’s point. It comes back to one that I think the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, made about minimum standards in this area. It might be helpful if I took advice on this and wrote to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, to see whether I can add some clarification.

Turning to Amendment 62, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, the levelling-up White Paper clearly states the Government’s ambition for devolution, including the devolution framework, which is underpinned by four principles. One of these principles is sensible geography. The White Paper clearly states that future devolution deals should be agreed over a sensible, functional economic area and/or a whole-county geography, with a single institution in place across that geographic footprint. We have already debated that issue on the previous group. The combined county authority model is being established in the Bill to provide a single institution that can cover such functional economic areas, or whole-county geographies, where there is existing two-tier local government and multiple upper-tier councils. As such, I reassure the noble Baroness that combined county authorities will be focused on single economic hubs.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Leader of the House

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I will specifically address Amendment 66 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bakewell, but I will also refer to Amendment 86. On these Benches we broadly support these amendments because they ask some important questions.

Amendment 66 refers to the environment, which to all intents and purposes is a bit of an orphan in the Bill. One of the great advantages of CCAs, and of gathering together councils on a bigger area, is that you can have co-ordination and efficiencies of scale on environmental issues that are more difficult in smaller units. There are great disadvantages to having large units, but on the environmental issue you need to exploit the advantages. On everything from the management of areas of outstanding natural beauty to recycling schemes—I am trying to produce contrasting examples—and particularly on transport issues, there are huge advantages to running on a larger scale. For example, you have the efficiencies of running a bus network that is not just in the towns and cities but serves the rural areas that feed into them. It is therefore very important indeed that those issues are at the forefront of the decision-making of the CCAs and that they report back on those decisions.

Turning to Amendment 86, I am sure the Minister will forgive me for some cynicism here. The first round of the UK shared prosperity fund and two rounds of levelling-up funding have posed more questions than answers on the criteria on which this sort of government funding is now being based. It seems that areas favoured by the Government are doing well, sometimes not for any good reason. There therefore needs to be accountability in the funding of CCAs.

If we look at the current patchwork of local government funding in England, there always tend to be huge discrepancies and illogicalities because you are always inheriting what has gone before. Areas change and develop, and sadly some areas decline relatively. Sometimes political decisions put some areas at a disadvantage while others thrive. The point I am making is that with CCAs you are starting afresh. It is therefore very important to explain why they are being funded as they are, not just through bald accounting but with a cost-benefit analysis. Amendment 86 is a very good idea.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to members of the Committee for such an interesting debate about statements and guidance on combined county authorities. We agree completely with the need for transparency on the wide range of issues in these amendments.

Amendment 66, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish an environmental impact assessment 120 days after making regulations that establish a combined county authority. I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness that in making the regulations, government and Parliament will have already considered the environmental impact of doing so. When deciding whether to make regulations to establish a combined county authority or change arrangements for an existing one, the Secretary of State has to consider statutory tests, including whether it would improve the environmental well-being of some or all of those who live and work in the area. Indeed, the regulations cannot be made unless the Secretary of State considers that this test would be met. There is therefore in our view an ample opportunity for Parliament to consider this.

This amendment would also require a combined county authority to publish an annual environmental impact assessment of its ongoing operation. As a form of local government body, CCAs will be subject to the same requirements as other local authorities to publish environmental impact assessments for specific pieces of work and decisions where necessary.

Amendment 74, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks a public statement of the definition and description of a non-constituent member of a combined county authority. I hope I can reassure her that there is already a definition for a non-constituent member in Clause 9. Paragraph 135 of the Explanatory Notes explains that:

“A non-constituent member of a CCA is a representative of a local organisation or body—such as a district council, Local Enterprise Partnership or university—that can attend CCA meetings to input their specific local knowledge into proceedings”.


The Explanatory Notes go on to explain how a non-constituent member would be chosen. First, the combined county authority may designate an organisation or body as a “nominating body” of a combined county authority if that organisation or body consents to the appointment. A nominating body would be a local organisation such as a district council. The nominating body will then suggest the representative to attend for its body—for example, the leader of the council—and that individual is the non-constituent member.

An associate member is an individual person such as a local business leader or an expert in a local issue whom a CCA can appoint. This enables the associate member to be a representative at CCA meetings and to input their specific local knowledge into proceedings.

I hope I can allay the doubts and fears of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on this issue. This model is designed to allow for genuine localism. It allows the local area to decide which local organisations or bodies will bring the greatest benefit to the combined county authority, and then appoint them. No two areas are the same. Depending on the local area, this will be different stakeholders, but examples of bodies that we expect to see combined county authorities engaging with are, as I mentioned, district councils, local enterprise partnerships, local universities, local health organisations and local registered providers, to name just a few.

The clause provides that district councils can be non-constituent members of a combined county authority. This will facilitate district councils having a formal seat at the table in putting their local expertise and ensuring join-up. Non-constituent members could attend the combined county authority’s cabinet meetings, be on sub-committees, and sit on overview and scrutiny committees and audit committees, giving those organisations that want them a role and voice in the combined county authority.

The model allows for local flexibility to reflect the different situations of different areas. If the combined county authority and all district councils wish to be involved, they can all be non-constituent members. However, if one does not, a devolution deal will not fall, as it would under the current combined authority model.

As stated in the levelling-up White Paper, we expect the upper-tier local authorities that we are agreeing devolution deals with to work with district councils to deliver the powers most effectively being provided. In discussions thus far, we have been pleased to see collaboration between upper- and lower-tier councils on devolution proposals to deliver for their area.

I emphasise that it is down to the combined county authority to decide what voting rights a non-constituent member should have rather than this being imposed by us in Westminster. Depending on the decision of the combined county authority, its non-constituent members can be given voting rights on the majority of matters.

I hope that this provides sufficient clarity on non-constituent members. I shall, of course, read Hansard and pick up any further questions that I feel I have not covered adequately, and I will write to noble Lords on those points.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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As a further point of clarification, if the Minister will allow, is that saying specifically that district councils represented on a CCA will not have a vote, whereas the CCA can decide that other non-constituent members can vote? I am not clear about this at all. Unless what is intended is more clearly set out, we could end up in what I would consider to be an unfortunate situation of elected district councillors who sit on a CCA not being able to have a vote, and the potential for that to be manipulated in a political way would still be there. We need to understand the situation around voting and non-voting for non-constituent members.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I understand the noble Baroness’s point. I do think that I covered that in my remarks, but I will reread what I said and, to the extent that I was unclear, I will be happy to write to the noble Baroness. The broad point is that it will be up to the CCA what voting rights it allows to whom, including district councils.

Amendment 76, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seeks to allow a combined county authority to be able to request that the Secretary of State makes regulations in relation to its membership. In agreeing a devolution deal with councils in an area, we will be discussing what governance arrangements would be appropriate, including the institution to operate the devolved powers, and membership and decision-taking arrangements.

The combined county authority would be able to make such a request to the Secretary of State. Such a request would be formalised through submitting a proposal to the Secretary of State, as set out in Clause 43 for establishing a new CCA and Clause 45 for making changes to the arrangements for an existing CCA. The Secretary of State has to consider such a proposal and, if they deem the statutory tests to be met, can decide to make the regulations. Such regulations can be made only with the consent of the local area—including the combined county authority if one is already established—and with parliamentary approval.

I turn to Amendment 86, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. The Government recognise the importance of transparency with regard to allocations of funding and regular reporting on the impact of wider and deeper devolution. Section 1 of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016 requires the Government to produce an annual report on progress with devolution to combined authorities and local authorities, which covers the areas suggested by the noble Baroness’s amendment; namely, funding and regular progress reporting on devolution of additional public functions.

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I have one final question—I would be grateful if the Minister could write to me if he does not know the answer. When the upper-tier authorities publish their reports, are they specifically not allowed to do this through the Part 2 confidential reports? I am sorry to have taken a bit of time on this, but this is an important section. It is incredibly complicated, which is why I am trying to get clarification. I do appreciate the Minister’s time.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Baroness. Although some of her questions can be dealt with quite easily via a letter, it might be helpful to her and other noble Lords if we had a round-table session to explore some of the broader questions in greater depth. As she rightly said, considerable ramifications emerge from some of these questions, and I think they would be usefully dealt with in a conversational format, with officials present. So, if that idea appeals to noble Lords, I would be happy to arrange it.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister. We would very much welcome that; it would be extremely helpful. I will finish by wishing the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, a very happy birthday.

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My last and final point is just to say how important Amendment 69, about proportionality, is. There will be voices from across political groups in the very big, strategic issues that are going to be determined by combined authorities. To take proportionality away—to disapply it—is a mistake, and I hope that the noble Earl will take away the very strong feelings that have been expressed in the Chamber and come back with revised proposals.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments considers various aspects of a combined county authority’s constitution and its day-to-day working. Although I appreciate it is a probing amendment, Amendment 67, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to amend the regulations on the constitution of a combined county authority. These regulations include the membership of the combined county authority, which must be amended if, for example, another area wished to join a CCA. Members of the new area would need to be added to the CCA. If no such change were possible, there could be no change to the make-up of an established combined county authority, regardless of the wishes of the local area. CCAs must retain the flexibility to include a new area or for an area to leave, or to reflect other such changes.

Turning to Amendment 68, I completely agree with the noble Baroness on the need for consultation with combined county authority members on regulations regarding the constitution of a CCA. Clause 44 of the Bill already goes further than this amendment by providing that the consent of all the constituent councils is required if the Secretary of State is to make any such regulations. It is worth my making the point that these clauses should not be read in isolation, but rather in the round.

I noted the noble Baroness’s position that CCAs, once established, should just be allowed to get on with it, without the involvement of or interference by the Secretary of State. I look at the issue from the other perspective. The clause enables constitutional arrangements for a CCA to be established in the regulations that will also establish the CCA. These arrangements are the fundamental working mechanisms of the CCA; they include aspects such as the membership of the CCA. As such, it is appropriate that they are set out in secondary legislation to ensure the establishment of a stable institution with good governance. A CCA can set out its own local constitution or standing orders with additional local working arrangements. This is done locally and does not require secondary legislation. However, the local constitution cannot be allowed to contravene primary or secondary legislation. There has to be consistency, and we believe that this is the right way to ensure that.

Amendment 69, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, would prevent the Secretary of State making provision for the executive of a combined county authority to represent the political make-up of its members. A combined county authority is to be made up of members from each of the constituent councils on a basis agreed by those councils through their consent to the establishing regulations. These regulations will also provide for the make-up of the CCA’s executive. It is essential that the constituent councils can agree together the make-up of the combined county authority’s executive that properly reflects the local political membership of the CCA. This is essential to underpin the collaborative working required to make a CCA work in practice.

The amendment would, in effect, impose on a combined county authority an executive that did not reflect the make-up of CCA members, which could negatively impact on the working of the CCA. It would also place the executive of a combined county authority in a different position from that of either a local authority or a combined authority, neither of which requires political balance.

Amendment 71, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, would enable a two-tier district council to be a constituent member of a combined county authority. As I said, the combined county authority is a new institutional model made up of upper-tier local authorities only. Only two-tier county councils and unitary councils can be constituent members of a CCA. We contend that this model will provide the flexibility required for devolution to areas with two-tier local government, which has proved a challenge to date. It allows a combined county authority to be established with agreement from the councils across the area that will be the constituent members of the CCA; that is, the upper-tier local authorities.

I realise that some noble Lords are sceptical about this, but this model removes the risk of one or two district councils vetoing the wishes of the great majority for devolution, as has happened with some two-tier local government areas wishing to form combined authorities, where unanimous consent from all councils in the area, including upper- and lower-tier councils, is needed.

I come back to a point I made earlier. While they cannot be constituent members of a combined county authority and, as such, cannot consent to its establishment, district councils can have a voice in a CCA via the non-constituent member model, as set out in Clause 9. As stated in the levelling-up White Paper, we expect CCAs and their upper-tier local authorities to work closely with their district councils, and have been pleased to see this happening in deal areas. This flexible model will enable the county, district and unitary councils to work together in the way that best meets local needs and wishes. The bottom line, I contend, is that this amendment would defeat those objectives.

It is important for me to say to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, that we are not taking away district council powers. Devolution is about giving power from Whitehall to local leaders. We expect the upper-tier local authorities we are agreeing devolution deals with to work with district councils, as I have said, to deliver the powers most effectively being provided. In discussions thus far, we have been pleased to see collaboration of the kind I have mentioned.

I realise that Amendment 72 is, in essence, a probing amendment. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear that I cannot accept it, because it would prevent a combined county authority resolving that non-constituent members could exercise a vote on matters where the CCA considered this to be appropriate. Non-constituent members are non-voting members by default. As I tried to make clear earlier, the combined county authority can give them voting rights on most matters, should it wish to. For example, a combined county authority may have provided for there to be some non-constituent members from the area’s district councils to enable their input on matters of importance to district councils in the CCA’s area. The CCA may wish to maximise this input by allowing in certain circumstances for these non-constituent members to vote. This amendment would prevent these non-constituent members being given a vote and would risk undermining the CCA’s ability to work in collaboration with its district councils and other non-constituent members.

Amendment 75, also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would prevent a combined county authority resolving that associate members could exercise a vote on matters where the CCA considered this to be appropriate. I am afraid that this is another proposal that I cannot accept, for reasons similar to those I have just outlined for Amendment 72.

Associate members are non-voting members by default, but the combined county authority can give them voting rights on most matters, should it wish to. For instance, a combined county authority may have provided for an associate member who, for example, may be a local business leader or an expert on a local issue to enable the member’s input on matters on which they have relevant expertise in the CCA’s area. The CCA may wish to maximise this input—

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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May I ask for a point of clarification on the associate members? Is it possible that a CCA can decide to give an associate member a vote, but not other associate members, and on what basis would that decision be made?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I think the answer to that is yes. CCAs can distinguish between associate members in that way. But they would need to justify to themselves why they were according that difference of treatment. Circumstances would dictate a different course in different circumstances.

I come back to saying that the CCA may wish to maximise the input of associate members by allowing—

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I appreciate the Minster’s reply, but if I could press him a little more, does he see any way at all in which we could differentiate what he is suggesting from the traditional role of the aldermen?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, has stumped me there. As I am not totally familiar with the role of the aldermen, and I am sure he is, I had better write to him on that point, if he will allow.

The point I was seeking to make is that the CCA would in some, if not many, circumstances want to maximise the input from associate members by allowing in certain circumstances those associate members to vote on such matters. The amendment would prevent that happening and could risk undermining the combined county authority’s ability to work in collaboration with local experts who can contribute positively to the working of the CCA.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Well, does that not argue for having in certain circumstances a similar status for associate members, who can contribute on a par with the way that commissioners contribute to combined authorities?

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The point I am trying to make to the Minister is that, if he is going to use an example, it has to be an example of someone who already sits on a combined authority and has that influence, rather than just someone who advises the mayor and does not have a formal role within the combined authority structure.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I think this was said earlier. I do not think you can take the model of the metropolitan areas and combined authorities and transpose that on to other areas of the country. Why should we not allow for difference, diversity and local decision-making on the way that people are used to best effect?

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The Minister does not seem to understand. It is not about transposing from an urban to a non-urban issue. This is a matter of principle about democratic accountability for taxpayers’ money being used and that, when people sit at a table, there is some form of democratic accountability back to the people for whom they are making those decisions. The kind of membership that the Bill proposes has no democratic accountability. It is not about transposing a model from urban to rural; it is a matter of principle. If people are spending taxpayers’ money as part of a mayoral combined authority, whether urban or rural, they should be democratically accountable back to the people whose taxes they are spending.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I sense that this is a matter that we will come back to at a later stage of the Bill. I do not think I can add anything to what I have already said on this subject.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I will just come back to one point. I was a bit puzzled by the Minister’s response to Amendment 69 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. The Government are taking the power in the Bill to disapply the duty to allocate seats on the basis of political proportionality in the combined authority; they are disapplying that power. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was seeking to remove that provision so that, if a party had a third or a quarter of the seats, it would expect something similar on the Executive. When the Minister answered the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, he gave an answer that seemed to agree with what he was suggesting while justifying the position of the Government. It seemed perverse.

I know that there are to be proposals for a Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire combined authority. At the moment Derbyshire County Council and Nottinghamshire County Council are controlled by the Conservatives, and Derby City Council is led by the Conservatives. The only Labour council is Nottingham City Council. On the basis set out in the Bill, the three Conservative councils could get together, gang up on the Labour council and throw it out of the committee structure. That surely cannot be right. Why would a minority council join something if it could be ganged up on and removed from the executive? It would not; we want to bring people together. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is trying to ensure that this problem could not happen. I do not follow the Minister’s arguments, which were in support of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, but were used to say that we cannot have the amendment.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, perhaps I could help the Minister at this point by simply suggesting that we add this to the agenda of our meeting, which gets longer and longer as we speak. It is a very important issue, to which we should add the issue of whether the calculation of political proportionality applies to the membership of the CCA—those who are there—or the bodies that each of those members represents, on behalf of which they have been nominated to attend the CCA. You might get a different answer depending on which it is. To avoid a lengthy evening and discussion at cross purposes, perhaps the Minister will agree that we can talk about it around the table; it might be easier.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, because the last thing I would wish to do is mislead this Committee or lead it down a path that led nowhere. Rather than go round in circles, as I suspect we might if I continued, I would be very happy to take up that suggestion and add it to the agenda of this rather lengthy round table we are planning.

Moving on to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I completely agree with her on the need for the constituent members of a combined county authority to agree to the conferral of local government functions on a CCA. This is recognised in Clause 16, which provides that the consent of all the constituent councils is required if the Secretary of State is to make regulations conferring any such functions on a CCA. It is essential that all the constituent councils have agreed to the regulations that establish and confer powers on the new institution to support the collaborative working that is essential for a successful CCA.

I turn to some of the broader issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, on Clause 25 standing part. I take on board her instinctive antipathy to the concept of having elected mayors, but let me outline the case in their defence. We have seen from our existing mayors how strong local leadership can enhance economic and other opportunities. Mayors act as champions for their areas, attracting investment and opportunity to their places. They provide that single point of accountability to local citizens. Our devolution framework in the levelling-up White Paper places a strong emphasis on the importance of high-profile, directly elected local leadership, strong local institutions, and joint working across sensible and coherent economic geographies. We believe that high-profile, directly elected leaders—such as a mayor—will be most effective in driving levelling up in an area. Such strong local leadership is essential for delivering better local outcomes and joined-up public services.

As such, level 3 of the devolution framework in the White Paper, which is the highest tier, requires an institution to have a directly elected mayor to access the fullest range of functions and funding. In the case of a combined authority, we have seen that directly elected mayors are the clearest and lightest-touch way to provide that single point of accountability that I have referred to, which enables greater risk taking in decision making. In the case of a local authority, a directly elected mayor increases the visibility of leadership and helps create a greater convening power to delivery place-based programmes. That visibility is not to be derided. The Evaluation of Devolved Institutions report in 2021 found that nearly three-quarters of respondents —72%—across all combined authority areas reported that they were aware of who the mayor of their local area was. London, with 97%, and Manchester, with 88% of respondents, reported the highest level of awareness of who their mayor was.

Many noble Lords will be aware of mayors around the country who are already playing an incredibly powerful role in driving economic growth, as well as improving public services and giving local areas a real voice on the national stage. West Midlands would be a good example, where Andy Street has led work to form Energy Capital with the aim of creating a competitive, secure modern energy system that provides low-cost, clean and efficient power, while Andy Burnham and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority have created Our Pass, a membership scheme to provide free bus travel across Greater Manchester for young people. It greatly improves their ability to take advantage of the city-region’s amenities.

Clause 25 enables regulations to be made for a combined county authority to be led by a mayor. It introduces Schedule 2, which sets out the detail of the electoral arrangements. As I have said, this opens the way for a combined county authority area to benefit from the strongest devolution offer available. As I also mentioned earlier, combined county authorities do not have to have a mayor; they can choose to be non-mayoral. We believe that that choice should be made by the local area, in line with our localism principles. Non-mayoral CCAs can access level 2 of the devolution framework, which in itself is valuable and powerful. This clause provides the mechanism for delivering our aim of having strong, visible and accountable leaders to take devolved powers and budgets, and drive the levelling up in their areas.

Amendment 113, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, seeks to insert a requirement into Clause 26 for there to be a referendum before the Secretary of State may make regulations to provide that a combined county authority should have an elected mayor, and for this question to be approved by a majority of local government electors. I have probably said all I can on the pros and cons of referenda. I am, generally speaking, not a fan, and I have to say that I agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, about the cost of putting on a referendum.

Lest there be any doubt about local public involvement, however, I absolutely agree that it is important that the public are consulted on a proposal to introduce a combined county authority mayor in their area, hence the requirement for public consultation in Clauses 43 and 45. For the record, again, Clause 43(4) states that, prior to submitting a proposal for establishing a combined county authority to the Secretary of State, the local authorities proposing to establish it must undertake a public consultation on the proposal in the area that the CCA will cover. If those local authorities are proposing that there is an elected mayor for the CCA, that will be set out in the proposal.

Clause 45(3) includes similar provisions for a proposal from a combined county authority to make changes to existing arrangements relating to that CCA, including introducing an elected mayor for the CCA’s area if moving from a non-mayoral CCA. The authorities or the CCA must undertake a public consultation in those circumstances and submit a summary of consultation responses to the Secretary of State alongside their proposal.

When deciding whether to make the regulations to establish or change a combined county authority for an area, including introducing an elected mayor, one of the tests that the Secretary of State must consider is whether the area’s public consultation is sufficient. If they conclude that it is not, Clauses 44 and 46 provide that the Secretary of State must himself or herself undertake a public consultation before any regulations can be made. So we believe that the existing clauses provide for sufficient local consultation on the introduction of a mayor or a CCA. I know that that reply will not make the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, any happier, but I believe we are closer to her position than perhaps she thought we might be.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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That is my fundamental principle. Anyone who makes decisions about public money has to be voted for; they have to be an elected member. The whole point is that they are then accountable for the decisions they make and can, quite rightly, be kicked out of office if local people do not agree with what they have done. That is the point and if you have non-elected members of these combined authorities who cannot be ejected from office for the decisions they have made, we are no longer a democratic country.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as noble Lords have explained, this group of amendments considers various aspects of the membership of combined county authorities and combined authorities, and the voting rights of members.

Amendment 70, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, seeks to require equal membership for all the members of a combined county authority, removing the flexibility that the Bill currently provides. I listened carefully to the noble Lord but I have to come back to a point that I made in an earlier debate: it is vital that the primary legislation on combined county authority membership retains this flexibility and enables the local area to make the decision about membership.

The practice within the existing combined authority model illustrates why. It is very common for the constituent councils of the existing combined authority model to have equal membership, but this is not always the case. For example, in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, each constituent council nominates one member of the authority and collectively they agree another three members so as to achieve political balance. This would not be possible if the legislation was amended as proposed.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I am finding some of this slightly confusing, so I wonder whether the noble Earl could clarify something. Is he confirming, first, that district councils can be constituent members, and not just non-constituent members? Secondly, did he just say that all district councils will be able to be members? I would just like clarification.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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It may be helpful if I cover the issue of district councils in a moment when I come to Amendments 155 and 156. I will do my best when I do so.

Amendment 127A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, addresses the requirements in relation to public consultations on proposals to change a combined county authority. We are in complete agreement that public consultation on a proposal to change a combined county authority is important. However, the amendment questions an important part of the safeguard that Clause 46 has in place to ensure that such a consultation is sufficient.

I will explain. As the provision is currently written, the Secretary of State must carry out a public consultation on changing a combined county authority unless three factors are met: first, that a proposal has been prepared under Clause 45; secondly, that a public consultation on the proposal has been carried out and a summary of it submitted to the Secretary of State; and, thirdly, that the Secretary of State considers that no further consultation is necessary—namely, that the consultation which has been carried out is sufficient. The amendment, as I take it, probes the process involved in the third factor. I tried my best to cover that in the letter I sent to all noble Lords who spoke in our previous Committee session.

In essence, the issue here is that the Secretary of State, in deciding whether a prior consultation has been sufficient or insufficient, has to look at several things: what the consultation consisted of; whether it followed the Cabinet Office guidance for public consultations sufficiently well; and, in that regard, whether it covered the necessary groups of people that it should cover, which is one of the principles set out in the Cabinet Office rules. So the public consultation would involve not only residents but key stakeholders, such as district councils, local businesses, public sector bodies, and voluntary and community sector organisations. A summary of those responses has to be presented to the Secretary of State when the proposal is submitted, together with any amendments that the proposing councils wish to make to the proposal in the light of the consultation. So the consideration the Secretary of State has to undertake is a combination of making sure that the principles laid down for consultations have been followed and looking at the evidence that has been presented. I hope that is of help to the noble Baroness.

I turn now to Amendments 155 and 156, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, which have similar effects, as he explained. Amendment 155 would remove the ability of a combined authority to resolve to allow non-constituent members voting rights on certain matters. Amendment 156 would apply the same restriction to a combined authority’s associate members. Both non-constituent and associate members are non-voting members by default, but we have enabled the combined authority to give them voting rights on most matters, should they wish to do so. For example, a combined authority may have provided for there to be a non-constituent member of a neighbouring council to enable their input on matters which may have cross-boundary effects.

I listened with care, as I always do, to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who expressed some severe reservations about this idea. However, it is entirely possible that a combined authority may have provided for an associate member—for example, a local business leader—to enable their input on matters which may have an impact on businesses in the combined authority’s area.

The combined authority may wish to maximise this input by allowing both non-constituent and associate members to vote on such relevant matters. The process for doing this would be set out in the combined authority’s local constitution, with the decision being made by the authority. As I have alluded to, there is a good example of this. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, expressed the view that district councils should be allowed a seat at the table and a vote. The Government have allowed for this to happen, albeit not in the way that the noble Lord has suggested, but as a non-constituent member.

We will be coming to a later group, consisting partly of Amendment 125A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, when we can perhaps discuss the issue of district councils in a little more depth. But it is also one of the topics that I suggest to noble Lords we cover in the round-table discussion which I proposed in our last Committee session, and which is now in the course of being arranged.

I should add that, very importantly, the decision by a combined authority to give any non-constituent members and/or associate members voting rights could be scrutinised by the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee to ensure due process is being followed. I suggest to the noble Lord that what we are proposing will not be without checks and balances.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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The Minister has given one example of a constituent council—a council outside the area of the CCA becoming a constituent council because there are cross-boundary issues. But that is the only one I have heard him come up with, and I had assumed there would many other examples of why this structure is being created.

I also have concerns about the associate member category. The Minister said, and I hope I understood him correctly, that a business leader in the area might be co-opted as an associate member, who would then be given a vote. Do the Government think that wise, in terms of public perception? I suspect that the public might have some doubts. I do not understand why giving them the vote is so important. I can understand a business leader advising as an associate, or simply being in attendance, which is a common category in meetings, but not actually having a vote.

I will not extend this debate, but I hope that when we have the round-table discussion we can get to the bottom of the reasons for votes being given to those who are not full members of the combined authority.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord, and I am sure that we can cover those issues in more depth at the round table. I think it is worth bearing in mind that if the local councils themselves have any doubts or reservations about the appropriateness of giving voting rights to an individual, they do not have to go down that road. It would be only by agreement that this would happen. They would see a value and a purpose in granting such rights.

Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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What could the value be in an outsider—someone who is not elected as part of the authority—having a vote? Perhaps the Minister can give us some examples of it being valuable for them to vote. Their advice, of course, would be important and the traditions of local government are that that advice would be listened to. But I think a vote is the thing that some of us find difficult to accept.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I gave one example, which was a district council that might have particular interests; another might be a university. An integrated care partnership might have major interests in what was being debated or decided. There could be circumstances where a vote by a representative of such organisations could be seen as the right thing to do in the circumstances. Again, I think this is worth my following up in subsequent discussions. I sense that there is considerable uncertainty and hesitation about this provision.

In summary, the Government’s view is that the course proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would undermine a combined authority’s ability to work in collaboration with local stakeholders, in the fullest sense, and experts who can contribute positively to the working of the combined authority and collectively ensure the best outcomes for the area and its residents. I hope that my explanatory comments are helpful, as far as they go, although I am conscious that they will not have satisfied noble Lords entirely. For the time being, I hope too that the noble Lord, Lord Foster, will feel able to withdraw Amendment 70.

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I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply because it will decide for me whether levelling up is just a pile of paper or a real project for change in our country.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments relates to the budgets and funding of combined county authorities and the scrutiny of them. Amendment 87, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, seeks to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish an assessment of a combined county authority’s funding, including in relation to any new functions.

The Government fully recognise the importance of transparency with regard to allocations of funding and regular reporting on the impact of wider and deeper devolution. That is why we introduced a measure to that effect in the Cities and Local Devolution Act 2016. This provision requires the Government to produce an annual report on progress with devolution that covers the areas suggested by the noble Baroness’s amendment; namely, funding and regular progress reporting on devolution of additional public functions. Combined authorities and local authorities are already covered by this provision. We laid a consequential amendment, government Amendment 152, on 9 February that will bring combined county authorities into its scope. I hope that is helpful to the noble Baroness.

It is also worth noting that combined county authorities will be subject to the same accounting and audit provisions as combined authorities and individual local authorities. Government Amendment 151, laid on 9 February, extends the provisions of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 to combined county authorities. These provisions include the requirement for them to have locally audited annual accounts available for public inspection on request. Taken together, these measures will ensure that combined county authorities operate in a transparent manner and are held to account for successful delivery in the same way that other institutions in England with devolved powers already are. The Government therefore feel that there are effective, proportionate reporting mechanisms already in place for combined county authorities that will cover what the noble Baroness is seeking to achieve.

I read Amendment 123, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, as probing whether Parliament will be able to scrutinise CCA budgets. I agree with what the noble Baroness said: combined county authority mayors and their budgets should be subject to scrutiny. Where I differ from her is that I believe that it should be a local matter. If it is to be worth the name, devolution should combine strong, empowered local leaders with stronger accountability and transparency. A directly elected leader, such as a mayor, with a fixed term and a clear mandate makes it much easier for local communities to make judgments based on local performance and local delivery, rather than the ebb and flow of national politics.

All combined county authorities will be required to have at least one overview and scrutiny committee and an audit committee. These will be instrumental in holding the authority and the mayor to account for their decisions and activities. The Government will be publishing a new devolution accountability framework to ensure that all devolution deals lead to local leaders and institutions that are transparent and accountable, work closely with local businesses, seek the best value for taxpayers’ money and maintain strong ethical standards. Requiring combined county authorities to lay their budgets before Parliament would be excessive and would also place CCAs on a different footing from combined authorities and all other local government institutions.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I think I said when I moved the amendment that our contention was that local government, including any CCAs, is already subject to extensive scrutiny, so we agree with that. I would be grateful if the noble Earl could clarify that no further layer of scrutiny will be applied to CCA budgets. Was that the content of the his response?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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In broad terms, yes. But if I can elaborate on that, I will certainly write to the noble Baroness.

Amendment 172, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, seeks to insert a new clause following Clause 76. This proposed new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish the fair funding review. I take this to mean the most recent government consultation on fairer funding for local government, which is the 2018-19 review of relative needs and resources.

The review of relative needs and resources was undertaken in 2018-19. As the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, this assessment is now out of date. It does not take into account more up-to-date census and demographic data. The events of the past five years, including, notably, the Covid-19 pandemic, mean that the world has moved on. I therefore suggest to the noble Baroness that there would be little benefit to publication in its outdated form.

The Government have already set out, in the local government finance policy statement on 12 December, that we would not be implementing the relative review of needs and resources in this spending review period. Instead, that policy statement sets out details of the funding policy that will be maintained for a second year into 2024-25. In making this decision, the Government were clear that now is the time for stability for the sector, not reform, given the turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic and the more recent economic issues relating to high inflation.

I emphasise that the Government remain committed to improving the local government finance landscape in the next Parliament and beyond. The department is keen to work closely with local partners and to take stock of the challenges and opportunities that they face to build on the work of the review of relative needs and resources and to ensure that plans for reform are contemporary, robust and informed by local insight. Again, this is set out in the local government finance policy statement, published in December. This is an important issue and one that we should certainly discuss in the coming months.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, will understand the Government’s reasoning on this, and that she will not feel the need to press this amendment when it is reached.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I am very grateful for the responses from the Minister. As was said earlier in the debate, we know that he always listens to the points being put forward, and I thank him for that.

On Amendment 87, which proposes that the CCA can request the publication of fair funding for new functions, I think that it is fair to say that local authorities cannot be expected to undertake bureaucratic burdens such as those. However, we want to see the records of reporting on CCAs, in particular around the cost-benefit analysis of what is being achieved by a CCA.

In response to the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, I say that there is a significant difference between the funding we see for initiatives and the funding for core services. There has been a great deal of the former and not so much of the latter in recent years. What happens, as we constantly see in local government, is that core services are undermined, and it hollows out the ability of local authorities to deliver the initiatives. I agree with the noble Lord that, whenever we raise these issues, we always get told that there will be new-burdens funding for things. In effect, while we occasionally see some money coming forward, we get things such as the new homes bonus. That is a good example, because the bonus was simply top-sliced from the rest of local government funding, so, in effect, they did not give us any new money at all; they just gave us our own money back. There are also things such as the Government setting rent policy for local authorities, telling us how much rent we can charge our tenants and placing additional burdens on housing authorities, and then saying, “No, you can’t have any new-burdens funding, because you should have been doing all that in the first place”. So there are problems around the whole issue of the new-burdens regime, and we need a genuine increase in funds in local government.

The points from the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, on how local government is financed, by whom, and how the resources are allocated and so on, were very well made. I would like to see the Government be brave enough to get on with this fair funding review. From the Minister’s response, I feel that it has been pushed into the long grass again. It was set up in 2018; we all understand that the pandemic had an impact on it, and perhaps during the pandemic was not the time to go into a full review of local government funding. It was delayed again in October 2022. Hearing that it has now been moved to the next Parliament is a concern, because this is urgent now. In 2023, we really cannot go much further forward with the system we have, which does not respond to local economic needs or local data, is very slow to respond, and, in many cases, is using data that is between 10 and 20 years old—that is not helping at all with the levelling-up agenda.

I spoke earlier about the difference between initiatives funding and core funding. It is all very well putting money into areas for local initiatives—often that is capital, and we have heard that the Secretary of State has now been stopped from signing off any further capital initiatives, so even that might not happen at the moment—but, if you do not keep the core funding going as well, and make sure that it is rising by inflation at the same time, it will be much more difficult to deliver any levelling-up initiatives whatever. So the amendments are important in making the point that we need to ensure that local government finances are duly and properly taken into consideration in the Bill. As I said earlier, it is disappointing that it is not there in a stronger way and we will look at the government amendments on the reporting on CCA funding to satisfy ourselves that they are right.

In the meantime, I am happy not to press the amendments. However, I hope that the Government are taking the point that we take very seriously this issue of local government finance and its rightful place in the levelling-up agenda; we may come back to it later in the debate.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments relates, as we have heard, to transport functions and associated arrangements of combined county authorities. Before I address the amendments, I say to the Committee in response to those noble Lords who question the Government’s commitment to levelling up in the area of transport—in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, but also the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Stunell, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Randerson and Lady Bennett—that the Government are committed to delivering improvements to transport across the north and across the piece. Let there be no doubt about that. We are committed to supporting all forms of transport. Indeed, between 2020-21 and 2022-23 we have invested over £850 million in active travel alone. The Transpennine Route Upgrade is the Government’s biggest single investment in upgrading the country’s existing railway, and is part of our continuing commitment to transforming rail connectivity across the north of the country. I plead with noble Lords to have some faith in the Government’s commitment in this area.

Amendment 92 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, looks to place a requirement on the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on any differences in integrated transport authority functions conferred on combined county authorities, and the rationale behind them. It is of course important to help interested parties understand differences in conferral of transport functions between CCAs. Once established, the combined county authority will become the local transport authority responsible for managing public transport in the CCA’s area.

The functions conferred on combined county authorities from an integrated transport authority to enable the CCA to be the local transport authority will be a merger of those currently possessed by the CCA’s constituent local authorities, with their agreement and consent. These will be agreed with the local authorities as the combined county authorities are established, and this approach will be consistent across all CCAs. Therefore, as this clause relates only to powers already held locally, there is no need for the Secretary of State to produce such an annual report because there will be consistency across CCAs. The Explanatory Memorandums to the secondary legislation will also provide an explanation of transport powers that the combined county authority will be responsible for.

Amendment 93, tabled by the noble Baroness, seeks to allow residents in the area of a combined county authority with transport functions to be able to petition their CCA and the Government for new transport infrastructure. We support residents having the ability to push for new transport infrastructure for their area; indeed, this is already possible. The residents of an area with transport functions are already able to petition their local authorities, including for transport infrastructure, and this will be the same for combined county authorities once created. Therefore, creating this additional requirement relating to transport specifically for CCAs is unnecessary.

I come now to Amendment 94, tabled by the noble Baroness to require a combined county authority to publish an assessment within 90 days, if they are transferred certain functions, on whether transport infrastructure in their area is sustainable. An assessment of infrastructure sustainability in a CCA’s area already forms part of a local transport plan. Where a CCA has been given transport functions, it will include this assessment as part of its local transport plan anyway, so we feel there is no need for a separate time-limited assessment.

Amendment 95 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would require a combined county authority to undertake an assessment of any company operating a train franchise in its area. There are already contractual reporting arrangements between train operators and the Government, and the train operating companies report their performance publicly on their websites and with key strategic partners, such as CCAs. In line with the Government’s commitment to not create additional bureaucratic burdens, we would not expect to mandate a report on any CCAs. Furthermore, if the CCA feels that it wishes to undertake such an assessment, we would expect it to utilise the existing reporting mechanisms. Given the existing reporting already in place, I hope that she will feel satisfied that the measures are sufficient.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I am wondering how this fits in with local government reporting, in the context of Britain’s legally binding net-zero obligations. This brings to my mind a broader question, but I will understand if the Minister wants to write to me later. How do the actions of the CCA fit within the overall framework of delivering net zero?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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If the noble Baroness will allow me, I will write to her on that, because I do not have an answer that would satisfy her in my brief.

Amendment 96, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, would require combined county authorities to notify the Secretary of State of any plans to begin a local travel survey within 30 days of being transferred functions under Clause 19. There is no legal requirement surrounding a combined county authority’s use of local travel surveys. Creating a legal requirement on CCAs for the reporting of their use within 30 days to the Secretary of State would, I suggest, place an unnecessary burden on CCAs, relative to the benefit.

Noble Lords may be interested to know that the Department for Transport conducts a national travel survey. We would expect CCAs to conduct further work locally to gather evidence in developing their local transport plans. However, we feel that mandating the use of local surveys in this way would be disproportionate, so I am afraid we do not feel we can accept this amendment.

I turn to Amendment 97, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. It would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to confer on a combined county authority a power to designate railways, bus routes and cycle paths as key routes. The purpose of a CCA designating a route as part of its key route network is to enable the mayor to direct local councils in how they should use their powers as the highway authority for that route, if they are not carrying out actions agreed under the local area transport plan. For example, a combined county authority mayor might direct local authorities to build a particular bus lane on part of the key route network, which would have strategic, area-wide benefits for the CCA as a whole.

CCAs will already be able to designate bus and cycle lanes that form part of a highway in their area as part of the key route network under the existing Clause 22. The powers that local authorities have as highway authorities do not extend to railways, so allowing CCAs to designate them as key routes would have no effect on their operation. Given that CCAs will be responsible for the local transport plan for their region, we would expect them to identify their key transport routes and plan how to manage these, including railways.

Amendment 98, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would enable the Secretary of State to confer a power on a combined county authorities to designate their area’s transport infrastructure as in need of regeneration. I would like to reassure her that, once established, combined county authorities, like existing local authorities, will have multiple means through which to petition the Government for improved transport infrastructure for their region. For example, Network Rail is responsible for maintaining the railway and for any renewals to ensure a safe and efficient-running railway. When it comes to enhancements being sought for railway improvements, we follow the rail network enhancements pipeline policy, which sets out how areas can engage with government on rail improvements.

On local roads, the Department for Transport provides local highways maintenance funding through the highways maintenance block and the potholes fund, which provide annual funding for eligible local highways authorities, including future combined county authorities, to locally prioritise investment in local roads and associated infrastructure, such as bridges and lighting columns. The Department for Transport will also maintain regular contact with combined authority areas, which will provide ample opportunity for areas to make the case for transport infrastructure improvements.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about roads and railways, and the control and leadership—if you can call it that—that the Department for Transport has in the pipeline, as he calls it, and everything else. However, I have seen examples of where Network Rail has been unable to paint the railings in one station because it had to go to the Treasury for approval. My noble friend’s amendments are designed to give some local control and accountability, rather than having everything controlled by the Treasury and the Department for Transport, who clearly think that they know best about everything, but some of us have our doubts.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Well, I note the noble Lord’s scepticism, which is long-standing, and can only say that I will relay his comments to the appropriate quarter.

I hope that the explanations I have given will be helpful to noble Lords opposite and that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will feel able to withdraw her Amendment 92. As always, I would of course welcome conversations outside the Chamber if she feels those would be useful.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I will be brief as I think everyone is looking forward to the dinner break. I thank the Minister for his very thorough response to my amendments and for his offer at the end. That is extremely helpful and I appreciate it.

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for supporting my amendments, which is much appreciated. I will make just one suggestion: if the Government are genuinely committed to levelling up transport in the north, could the next stage of HS2 start from the north and then work down? But at the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt for tabling the amendment. I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his 50 years in local government and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, on his many years in local government. I went into local government in 1997. I was leader of my council for nearly 17 years before I joined your Lordships’ House, so I am the baby of the party here. However, I learned a few things along the way, as the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, kindly remarked. I want to cover some comments about my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendment and to make some general points about the role of district councils in the new world that we are looking at following the Bill.

The big question here was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, which is: where does democracy lie? This is a very important question. We think about it often in local councils. In previous sittings, we have heard set out clearly before your Lordships’ House the incredibly valuable role that district councils play in many of our communities in the UK, and I am grateful that this has been brought before us once again today. That is why it is so disappointing that the Bill, which purports to be all about devolution and bringing decision-making closer to people, seems to ride roughshod over the very tier of local government and the 183 councils that are closest to many people and communities. District councils outstrip county council colleagues and national government by a very long way indeed on issues such as helping people feel proud of their area, tackling social issues in our neighbourhoods, responding to and dealing with emergencies and, importantly, bringing the views of local people into decision-making in their local area. The figures are 62% for the district councils, 32% for county councils and 6%—yes, just 6%—for national government. As my noble friend Lord Hunt said, district councils cover about 40% of the UK’s population but, importantly for the purposes of the Bill, they cover 68% of the land of the UK.

In this country we already have the lowest number of elected representatives per head in Europe; France has 35,000 communes with mayors and Germany has 11,000 municipalities. It is the UK that has abnormal levels of underrepresentation, and our councillors lack the powers and finances of many of our continental counterparts. Across the country we have around 2,000 electors per district councillor, which may account for their approachability, whereas there are 9,000 electors per county councillor.

They also represent communities that people recognise —I think this is key for the Bill. The comments by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, were very important here; people relate to the communities represented by our district councils. Surely the Bill should aim to keep the devolution we already have, not snatch it away to bigger and bigger combined authorities. That does not sound like progress to me.

This is not to set up any false conflict or rivalry between counties and districts. We all have a job to do and county councils are currently doing a valiant job in very trying circumstances. But with the high-cost services at county level, such as adult care services and children’s services, impacting on around just 5% of the population, whereas district council services impact on 100% of the population, it is perhaps not surprising to see how valued district councils are by their communities. As well as environmental services like the ones that my noble friend Lord Hunt commented on—waste collection, fly-tipping, street cleaning, licensing and food safety—districts look after leisure, parks and culture. They often take a role in preventive public health initiatives—in my own borough we have a Young People’s Healthy Hub tackling mental health issues for young people—town centre and high street management, tourism and so on. They also deal with key strategic services. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, on this, because without key strategic services such as planning and economic development, there would be no levelling up. Leveraging £1 billion of town centre investment, as we have done in my borough, and £5 billion for a cell and gene therapy park—these are important contributions to the local area.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, referred to neighbourhood planning, which is a key part of how we drive forward issues around housing. It is well documented that it is neighbourhood planning that has actually delivered housing; it is a very important part of what has been done. The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, referred to issues around the structure and architecture of the national development management policies. Frankly, I do not understand how this is going to work in the way it is currently set out in the Bill.

There are plenty of other contributions that district councils make. It was alarming to hear the Minister contend in our earlier session this week that

“councils do not deliver any of the services required by the PCC.”—[Official Report, 13/3/23; col. 1143.]

That does not take into account the very successful partnership working between district councils and the police. As well as managing CCTV systems and often funding neighbourhood wardens, districts have extensive programs for tackling anti-social behaviour and for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and are often linked with Housing First provision, domestic abuse, engaging communities in setting local policing priorities and tackling enforcement issues in licensing, fly-tipping and environmental crime, to name but a few. During the pandemic, in two-tier areas it was often district councils that stepped up to either take on the support of those who were shielding or help mobilise hyperlocal resources to do so.

Forgive me for perhaps labouring the point a little, but the premise of the Bill, which seeks to override the very important role that district councils play in our communities, may be based on a misunderstanding or an outdated view of what district councils actually do. Of course, on planning issues, when we are looking at big strategic planning, districts have to work in partnership with other bodies—the health service, local enterprise partnerships and county councils—but I contend that this means they must have a vote and a voice around that table. Therefore, I support my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendment in this group, as I have with others in earlier sessions that give district councils—and indeed town and parish councils—the voice that they deserve and that their communities expect them to have.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 125A tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, brings us back to a set of issues that we have discussed in a number of our earlier debates: the question of which authorities can prepare a proposal for the establishment of a combined county authority and submit the proposal to the Secretary of State. The amendment seeks to add second-tier district councils within the proposed CCA’s area to this list of authorities. However, as the noble Lord is aware, the Bill provides that only upper-tier local authorities—county councils and unitary councils—can be constituent members of a CCA. District councils cannot be constituent members of a CCA and, as such, cannot prepare and submit a proposal for a CCA.

Let me take the Committee through the rationale for this approach. When CCAs come into being, they will ensure that there is a mechanism for strategic decision-making across a functional economic area or whole-county geography; in other words, co-operation over matters for which upper-tier local authorities already have responsibility.

In the Government’s view, therefore, it makes sense to enable upper-tier local authorities to decide, albeit following appropriate consultation, whether a CCA across a wider geographic area might offer advantages for such whole-county strategic decision-making. That is not to say that district councils should have no voice in the way a CCA comes into being; quite the contrary. While we believe that it is right for district councils not to form part of the constituent membership of a CCA, they are nevertheless key stakeholders in the devolution process. As we stated in the levelling up White Paper, while we will negotiate devolution deals with upper-tier local authorities across a functional economic area or whole-county geography, we expect county councils to work closely with the district councils in their area during the formulation of the proposal and subsequently. This is exactly what has been happening to date, and we have been pleased to see it.

How can we ensure that the voice of district councils is heard as a CCA proposal is being put together? As discussed in Committee previously, authorities proposing a CCA must undertake a public consultation on the proposal. As key local stakeholders, district councils would be consulted. Their views would be reflected in any summary of consultation responses submitted to the Secretary of State for consideration.

The task of the Secretary of State is then to assess whether the consultation has been sufficient. In doing so, the Secretary of State will have regard to whether it reflects the views of a full range of local stakeholders, including district councils should there be any. The Cabinet Office principles for public consultations are very clear that those conducting a public consultation must consult the full range of local stakeholders, not simply local residents but businesses, public authorities, voluntary sector organisations and others with a legitimate interest. If the Secretary of State, mindful of those principles and in the light of the evidence presented, deems the consultation not to be adequate, they themselves must consult on the proposal. Any such consultation would include consulting district councils.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I thank the noble Earl for giving way. I do not accept the principle that the district councils in an area, which are the democratically elected representatives for their people, are the same as all the other stakeholders that the noble Earl referred to and just another consultee in this process. Fundamentally, that is where the discussions we have had on this so far have given us such a deal of trouble. District councils have an elected mandate from the people they represent. I appreciate that there are very strong rules around Cabinet Office consultations and so on in the principles that the noble Earl has set out, but surely there must be a different approach to district councils because of the elected mandate that their representatives hold.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I obviously listened with great care to the noble Baroness when she made her initial intervention. I take on board the point she made, which I understand. It was made by other noble Lords. I am trying to set out for the Committee the direction the Government are coming from in framing the Bill’s provisions.

I just want to emphasise a point that I made in an earlier debate, which may not be sufficiently appreciated. I look in particular at the noble Lord, Lord Mann. The Bill in no way removes any powers or functions of district councils, which are rightly their own sovereign bodies and will continue to exercise their own powers and functions within the broader context of the CCA. Indeed, as we have already debated, we fully expect that, in many cases, CCAs will decide to give district councils a seat at the table as non-constituent members, should they deem that this will usefully inform decision-making. It would be open to a CCA to give voting rights to such a non-constituent member, if it considered this appropriate. It is right that we should give CCAs that freedom. The sub-strategic matters for which district councils are primarily responsible will often be directly germane to the strategic issues being considered and decided on at CCA level.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for the points he made. As I am sure he is aware, we will immerse ourselves in the issues he raised on national development plans when we move to the parts of the Bill relating to planning, but I hope for now that that explanation will assist the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in understanding why—

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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I apologise for intervening at this late stage, having made no speech, but I would like to ask a couple of questions of my noble friend that relate to Clause 43. The first is a simple one. There is a reference to a combined authority being able to make a proposal relating to a new combined county authority. I am confused, since I understood that a combined county authority would not be able to encompass any part of the area of an existing combined authority. Is it anticipated that circumstances might arise where a combined authority would transfer some of its area to a new combined county authority? That is just a question for future reference.

Secondly, the clause includes a reference, which we have seen before, to an “economic prosperity board”—which I take in most cases to mean local enterprise partnerships—having the right to make a proposal or having the requirement to consent to a proposal for a new CCA. The Government announced in the Budget today that they intend, as they put it, to withdraw support for local enterprise partnerships from April 2024. What does this imply? How does the business community have a voice and through whom, since the Government intend the functions of the local enterprise partnerships to be devolved to local government? Would my noble friend at least agree that something might be said about this at an early stage, before we complete this section relating to what an economic prosperity board is supposed to do?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I think that my best course is to write to my noble friend on both issues. He is perfectly right that Clause 43(2)(e) refers to

“a combined authority the whole or any part of whose area is within the proposed area”

as being a body to which the section applies; that is to say, a body which may prepare a proposal for the establishment of a CCA for an area and submit that proposal to the Secretary of State. It would be wise of me to set down in writing the kinds of circumstances in which we envisage that particular geographic area playing a part in the formation of a CCA. On the questions my noble friend raised on economic prosperity boards, I again think it best that I should write to him.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that the policy for CCA establishment and operation, as reflected in the Bill, neither belittles nor marginalises the important role played by district councils. When a CCA is formed, any district councils within its geographic radius will be important stakeholders—it is very hard to see how they could not be—albeit alongside many others. However, they cannot be a constituent member of a co-operative local government grouping whose membership is determined by reference to strategic functions and powers which are the primary province of upper-tier and unitary authorities. That is the logic.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, it has been a very interesting debate; I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part and to the Minister for his very careful response. At heart, I come back to the contributions from my noble friend Lady Taylor and the noble Lord, Lord Mann, on the importance of district councils to local democracy. It seems to me that there is a risk that they are ridden over roughshod in the Bill. I listened with care to what the Minister said at the end; it is interesting that he referred to them as being second-tier, but I am not sure that I accept that. I find that to be pejorative in itself. Housing, local planning and environmental health are not second-tier; they are the statutory body. There is a big risk here.

I have experience as a member of Birmingham City Council, where we had metropolitan counties and metropolitan district councils. To call Birmingham City Council second-tier to the then West Midlands County Council would have been greeted with absolute horror. I know that the powers were slightly different, because the met districts had more powers than the non-met districts, but the principle still arises.

I take what the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, said— I understand the point about leverage and economic development—but the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, is surely right in saying that the district councils’ own responsibility in terms of the preparation of development plans means that, tactically if nothing else, they need to have a seat at the table. The trouble with being associates is that it really does not convey the importance that the district councils have.

I also sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Mann, when he talked about geographically incoherent CCAs—surely, he is right. I am afraid that I have to refer back again to 1974: the proposals were made during the Heath Government, when Peter Walker was the Environment Secretary, but it fell to the 1974 Labour Government to preside over the new arrangements.

Do noble Lords remember Avon County Council, Humberside County Council and Hereford and Worcester? They were hated because people did not accept that they were coherent authorities. Put Worcestershire and Herefordshire together and you begin to see some of the problems: these CCAs are very artificial architecture, are they not, really? We will see these large units that will appear so remote from the public. The argument here is that at the very least, surely, we should make sure that the non-met district councils have a proper role and seat at the place. There have been a number of amendments and debates, and I think that between now and Report we have to find a way to signify that district councils are important. Having said that, it has been a good debate and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I remind the Committee that the Coronavirus Act 2020 contained numerous measures which were intentionally —and, in the Government’s view, rightly—time-limited as they were introduced in an emergency at great speed. The local authority remote meetings regulations arising from that Act gave local authorities the flexibility to meet remotely or in hybrid form. Since their expiry, all councils have reverted to in-person meetings and local government is back to how it operated pre-Covid and working effectively.

All three amendments in this group propose in different ways a relaxation of the rules relating to meetings held by local councils. Amendment 158, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, leans directly into the regulations that expired on 7 May 2021, using powers in the Coronavirus Act 2020. In a related vein, Amendment 310, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley, aims to allow planning committee meetings of local authorities to take place virtually, as well as making related provisions for public access to meetings and remote access to meeting documents. Amendment 312D, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, is a probing amendment on a similar theme.

I have noted the powerful contributions made in this debate but I fear that I must give my noble friends and the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Hayman, a disappointing answer at this stage. The Government are of the view that physical attendance is important for delivering good governance and democratic accountability. As we in this House may recognise, there are clear benefits to democratic representatives debating and voting on matters in person rather than at the end of a video call. The nature of debate is different, and the nature of interaction is different, in a positive sense. There are benefits to the—

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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These amendments do not preclude that, but give an option. Does the noble Earl not think that having that option would be a benefit?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I completely appreciate that, but I ask the noble Baroness to hear me out. There are benefits, which we would all recognise, to the side-discussions that are facilitated by being physically next to colleagues, and these are not the only considerations. It is worth my reminding the Committee that there is no restriction on in-person council meetings being filmed or webcast to allow the public to view proceedings remotely. Indeed, the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 extended full rights for the press and public to record and broadcast council meetings.

I have listened carefully to my noble friends and to noble Lords opposite, who have argued, often from first-hand perspectives, for the current legislation to be changed. I am afraid that the most that I can do at this stage is to say that we will keep the matter under review, and I undertake that we will do so.

My noble friend Lord Lansley, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott of Needham Market and Lady Hayman of Ullock, asked me about the current position on the call for evidence and the government response. Conversations are continuing across government and as soon as possible after those conversations are concluded, we will publish a government response to the call for evidence, which will set out our intentions. However, for the time being, I must resist all three of these amendments.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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Can the Minister explain why your Lordships’ House allows virtual contributions but does not give councils the opportunity to do the same thing?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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That is one of the considerations we are looking at. The noble Baroness is quite right—she knows that there are certain of our number whom the House in its wisdom has decided should be allowed to contribute virtually. These things should be considered in the mix, but I am afraid I cannot give the Committee a definitive answer for the reasons I have explained.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to what has been an excellent debate; there was unanimity across the Committee. If the Government are not prepared to table an amendment encapsulating the points that were raised, it may be helpful to point out that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, said, this is not an obligation on councils. We are simply extending the choice they enjoyed under the very strict Covid regulations to permit democracy to continue and allow councils to meet. A number of examples have been given. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to caring responsibilities being added to the others. Councils at every level—and I think it important to include them all: parish councils, right up to the highest level, where appropriate—should have the right to choose.

To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, Filey to Northallerton is 57 miles. There are trains that take two hours 13 minutes one way, but they do not run at the time the council starts or ends the meeting. We have had a discussion about the weather and other reasons, such as incapacity, why individual councillors may not be able to attend a particular meeting. I find the arguments for the amendment very compelling; there is no downside that we have heard about. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said, we do not know whether there is a downside, but if there were I think the Government would have been prepared to publish the evidence, because that would have strengthened their argument.

There are very compelling reasons for doing this: representation of both councillors and the public went up. However, I do not think we should make it obligatory. This House is allowed to meet virtually if you are incapacitated, or in committee; that is the committee’s choice. I would like to extend that same choice to councils at every level. I therefore propose to table—with cross-party support, I hope—an appropriate amendment on Report, unless my noble friend and the Government can table an even better one. The time to act is now. We are losing good councillors and members of the public who may not be able to attend for those reasons. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Debate

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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, before my noble friend responds to the debate, I want to ask a couple of questions. I do not want to get into the detail of the public health Act, although I might say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who quoted marking and painting, the text here is simply the same as the public health Act, so I do not think the draftsman can be criticised too much for incorporating some of the original drafting in the process of rewriting this bit of legislation.

I have two questions. First, subsection (10) of this clause says:

“No local Act operates to enable a local authority within subsection (1)(a) or (b) to alter the name of a street, or part of a street, in its area.”


That relates to a district council or to a county council for which there is no district council. Are there any such local Acts? I was not clear what the import of this is, and whether there are local Acts that have given this power and they are being disapplied by this provision. I wondered whether my noble friend knew whether there were any such local Acts.

Secondly, I did not give him notice of this question, but I am asking my noble friend if he will be kind enough to see what the department’s view is on it. If one knows Cambridge at all, one knows that to the west of Cambridge there is a new town called Cambourne. I was the Member of Parliament there when it was first proposed and, in the original naming process for what were then three linked villages, it was intended to use the name Monkfield, since they were actually built on land that was called Monkfield farm.

However, the local authority discovered that it had no power to determine what the name of a new village or town would be. Presumably, the legislation, except in the context of development corporations, never believed that local authorities would be naming new villages or towns that were put on to greenfield sites by private developers. As it turned out, the private developer had the right in law to determine the name Cambourne, which it chose using Cambridge and Bourn, a local village. Everyone is perfectly happy about that now, but at the time it was questioned whether it was appropriate that a local authority could name streets but could not name a town. That is a curious situation for us to have arrived at.

As it happened, the local authority subsequently came up with the excellent name of Northstowe, which I think slightly reflects the point made in the other amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, since it used the name of the hundred within which the town subsists—namely, Northstowe—which historically had never been applied to a specific village or town, so a historic name was able to be given a modern usage. Fortunately, that worked okay without anyone having any problems with it. The question is: should the local authority have such a power and, if not, is this worth thinking about at some point?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I shall focus straightaway on the provisions of Clause 77 in the round, in response to the concerns and questions that have been raised by the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Scriven, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Taylor and Lady Bennett.

Clause 77 creates a requirement for the necessary support to be obtained for any changes to street names. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked why the Government have included this clause in the Bill. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I must repudiate the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, that this has something to do with the culture wars. The answer is that it addresses the issue that, in some places around the country, there has been considerable concern and disquiet where councils have taken it upon themselves to change the name of a street without any meaningful consultation with local residents.

Under the available legislation, which noble Lords have rightly said dates from the early 20th century, any council has the power to change the name of a given street without consulting the residents in the street. The provisions of the Bill will ensure that, instead, local residents will be properly involved in changes to street names that affect them—changes that, as we have discussed, can alter the character of their area. Street names are often an intrinsic part of an area’s heritage, cherished by the community for their history and representation of the place. Changing names involves both practical costs for residents and businesses and social cost to the community. We are clear that these costs should be borne only with the consent of those affected.

How that should be attained will vary according to the nature of the street and its importance in the community. A one-size-fits-all approach would be insufficient to properly allow the views of the community to be determinative. The clause will unify the approach to how changes to street names are made where currently the rights of the community depend upon where they live and, outside of London, the decision of the local authority as to how involved or not the community should be.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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I totally follow the logic of what the Minister has just said, but would it not be the case that a solution would be, rather than a new provision, to revoke the part of the 1925 Act that a council can adopt, which says there should be no vote, in favour of saying that all councils must adopt the 1907 Act, which says there must be a vote?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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The problem is that there are, I am advised, three Acts of Parliament that date from the early part of the last century, and that has led to a confusing mix of provisions across the country. Many provisions are over a century old, as I say, and there is no transparency over which Acts apply where. We thought it simpler to take the opportunity to be clear in this Bill that there should be more local determination of these issues. The current legislation is antiquated in its drafting, apart from anything else, so this updating is intended to make the process clearer for local authorities. All that should make the process for renaming a street more democratic and ensure that the voices of the local community are genuinely heard.

Amendment 173, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, would add additional criteria for local authorities when considering the renaming of a street. We entirely agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of history, archaeology and culture in this process. The last thing we want is anodyne street names divorced from the character and history of the area. However, as I have made clear, the Government are strongly of the belief that the final say on changes affecting street names should lie with local people. We fully expect those local views to reflect the historical or cultural associations of the names concerned and the importance that communities place upon them.

The amendment would create a duty on a local authority to consider the historical, cultural or archaeological significance of a name change. It is not clear that a free-standing additional requirement of that kind is necessary, nor is it clear how that duty would work alongside the provisions of the Bill. It could, for example, make it harder to secure name changes that had local support but where new considerations, such as the need to honour a local person or event, took precedence over an archaeological interest. We saw some Olympians having streets named after them following the 2012 Olympics.

It is for this reason that, with the aim of being helpful to local authorities, the Government would be minded to set out in statutory guidance how factors such as the history and culture of the area should be considered in bringing forward proposals for street name changes under this clause. We have consulted on the prospective secondary legislation and guidance to deliver these changes, and respondents were over-whelmingly positive about our proposals: 91% of respondents agreed that regulations and statutory guidance should set out how local authorities should seek consent when changing a street name. In view of that support, and of the fact that heritage and cultural significance are matters that local communities are best placed to weigh up for themselves, I hope I will have persuaded the noble Baroness that the amendment is not necessary.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The 1907 Act is very clear. It is not antiquated or in any way there to be debated. The 1907 Act power may be exercised only with the consent of two-thirds of the non-domestic rates payers and council tax payers in a street. That is what the Act says. What is it about the 1907 Act and that provision which seems to be non-democratic and does not give the power to the people on the street to make the change?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Because it is a one-size-fits-all approach and our judgment is that that is not an appropriate prescription for every situation.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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The noble Earl is therefore saying that in one street it could be 51% and, in another street, maybe a couple of streets away, it has to be 75%. Is that what the noble Earl is saying? The provision in the 1907 Act is very clear. It gives a provision of what needs to happen and a percentage of the vote required to change the name. Is he saying that different streets need different percentages of the votes to change the street name?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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We cannot, at this stage, prescribe particular percentages to particular situations. This is to be worked through in regulations and guidance, which was, as I emphasised, the approach that respondents to the consultation felt was right: we should not be unduly prescriptive in primary legislation, but rather allow for some flexibility at local level depending on the situation under consideration.

I turn to Amendment 175 in the name of the noble Baroness. As I outlined, our view is that local people should have the final say on these matters, particularly, as the noble Baroness’s Amendment 173 demonstrates, when it comes to their local heritage. In this context, I agree with the underlying intent behind this amendment. There should be clear processes for making sure that views from all relevant groups that might be affected by a street name change are taken into account. It is, however, important that we do this in the right way so that the processes are robust but can be adjusted if needed.

The approach in these amendments would be prescriptive and would limit our ability to go further than simply consultation by making local views determinative, as the clauses do at present. But I want to reassure the noble Baroness that we will be setting out clear, transparent and robust arrangements in secondary legislation, as we set out in the consultation I already mentioned. In addition, by setting out the detail for how consultation on street naming will work in regulations and guidance, we can maintain flexibility to update processes in line with different local circumstances and changes such as new technology. I hope these remarks are helpful in explaining the Government’s approach to what is a sensitive issue.

My noble friend Lord Lansley asked whether there were any local Acts of Parliament that might affect this issue. I am advised that the Oxfordshire Act 1985 might be relevant here. I think I had better do further research for my noble friend to find out whether there are others—but that was the advice that I have been able to receive.

On his other question of the power to name new villages, I have no direct experience of this. My understanding is that what normally happens is a conversation between a private developer and the local authority and an accommodation is reached. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, who clearly has direct experience of this, is shaking her head, so I do bow to her experience. It would seem appropriate that I look into this further and write to my noble friend once again.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I thought this would be quite a short debate, but you never know here, do you? I am also grateful to the noble Earl for, as usual, a very thoughtful and considered response to the debate.

Our contention in tabling the amendments in this group was that the Government’s introduction of this clause to the Bill was kind of bizarre in a way. We have looked at some very key strategic issues in the debates already—we are likely to come to more in the days in Committee to come—around local finance, business rates, environmental issues, affordable housing and so on, and found that there is not as much in the Bill as we would like to see on those. However, what seems to be an issue covered by previous legislation and seems for the most part to be managed perfectly well in local areas—there may be some notable exceptions—gets a whole clause in the Bill.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for his careful evisceration of the clause—that is what it was. He used the term “a clause in search of a problem” and asked the clear question: what is the problem here? He also referred to the impact statement having no reference to this clause. I think the idea is that there may be—let us face it, there probably are—some councils around the country which either insist on name changes that have not got public support or resist name changes that have. But the existing powers, as has been consistently referred to through the debate, require a consultation of ratepayers to vote in favour of a name change, so it is difficult to see where the push comes from.

I know that this issue causes a great deal of concern in local areas if there are things that have gone wrong, but surely the pressure on a democratically elected council would be to make sure they had their residents alongside them if they were going to present a change of name, not to push against that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about the LGA supporting getting rid of this clause. I noted that from the LGA’s briefing. The idea that people really want to get tangled up in these issues in Parliament is odd, to say the least, as far as I am concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, talked about measuring sufficient local support. Leaving this to regulation seems, again, to be a huge sledgehammer to crack a nut. If we are going to have regulations around the conduct and timing of a referendum and what percentage is going to get us over the line in terms of what we call our road, that kind of centralised direction has no place in a Bill that is supposed to be concentrating on devolution. I do not want to get caught up in the issue around roads in Haringey particularly. It may be in that case that the consultation did not take place; I do not know.

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I do not think the noble Baroness has understood the issue. This has everything to do with devolution; that is the whole point of the clause.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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Well, I think that regulating to the extent of telling where signs can be put and whether they should be painted or printed really is against the spirit of devolution.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made good points on what powers local authorities have to name which things. We should not avoid the fact that private developers will of course choose to name things in a way that they think will help them to sell properties in an area. They will choose either road names or settlement names because they think it is in their interest and will help to sell properties. If we are to have this clause—I assume we will, because I doubt the Government will withdraw it—we need to think about this as well. Areas should be named according to some kind of local connection, whether it is history or individuals connected with the area—my second amendment refers to this—and I do not think that this should be entirely in the hands of developers.

I have not changed my view on this clause. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that it does not have much of a place in the Bill, but if it is going to be in there, when name changes are made we need to think about what the connections are. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on this. We also need to think about proper public consultation on matters such as this. If it has to be in the Bill, so be it, but local authorities have managed this perfectly well so far and there is no need for a clause such as this in a broad-ranging, strategic Bill. That said, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, with apologies, and being aware of the hour, I will be brief. I oppose in the strongest terms the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.

The City of London is the last rotten borough. The elections to the City of London can in no way be described as democratic. There is also the City of London cache, a massive fund amassed over many centuries and explicitly excluded from freedom of information. The last figure that I have, from 2012, is of a £100 million per year income.

The rights of the City of London go back to William the Conqueror, who said that he would maintain all the rights and privileges that the citizens had hitherto enjoyed. It is about time that we finally modernised and got past that. In 1894, it was recommended by a royal commission that the City of London Corporation be abolished. I put on the record my desire to work with any noble Lord who wishes finally to reach that obvious conclusion.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as my noble friend has explained, Amendment 178A seeks to remove voting restrictions on either housing issues or related planning decisions applying uniquely to members of the common council of the City of London who are also tenants of the City of London Corporation. Sections 618(3) and (4) of the Housing Act 1985 mean that, while an individual can be a councillor of the City of London if they are a housing tenant of the corporation, they cannot apply for a dispensation to vote on housing or related planning decisions. Voting in breach of Section 618 is a criminal offence. This is not dissimilar to the regime that applies under the Localism Act 2011 which also creates a criminal offence where a member fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with the requirements to declare their disposable pecuniary interests, and takes part in council meetings.

Councillors in any authority elsewhere in England, operating under the disposable pecuniary interest regime in the Localism Act 2011, can apply for a dispensation to vote on matters where they have a declared interest—but there is no such discretion for the City of London to grant a dispensation where Section 618 applies. In short, this means that City of London councillors are being treated differently from all other councillors in England. I am aware that the City of London has raised the issue on previous occasions. I am grateful to my noble friend for his amendment. Between now and Report, I undertake to give the matter proper consideration and would be happy to arrange a discussion with my noble friend if he would find this helpful.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench. I willingly accept his kind offer of further discussions. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Debate

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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for her valuable contribution to this debate and for focusing our attention on these provisions. In the light of her remarks, it is probably best for me to start by explaining the importance of Clause 79.

Too often, planning information is hard to use for all the purposes that it should serve. Clause 79 is designed to address this problem. Planning authorities often receive large amounts of information which requires manual intervention to make it usable. Re-entry is then required to use that information later in the system. These manual tasks take valuable time away from planning authorities performing their core role of making decisions that matter to communities.

There are three key effects of this clause. First, it works with Clause 78 to ensure that complying with data standards does not create a new bureaucratic burden for planning authorities receiving information and then having to render it compliant. Secondly, it gives planning authorities the power to require information in a manner that best suits their systems and the data standards to which they are subject. Thirdly, it protects against the risk that some may attempt to use the requirements under Clause 78 to inconvenience local authorities’ decision-making by deliberately submitting information in a problematic format that is difficult to extract.

Clause 79 also sets out the process that planning authorities must follow to exercise their powers. Publication of a notice on the planning authority website or through specific communications will be required to inform participants of what planning data will be subject to data standards when it is submitted to a planning authority. In circumstances where the data fails to comply, a notice must be served specifying the reasons for rejection.

I will deal briefly with the power of planning authorities to refuse information as non-compliant. There is no obligation for planning authorities to refuse non-compliant information. However, for the reasons I have just outlined, we expect planning authorities to accept such information only exceptionally. The Committee will see that we have taken steps to protect those who are not able to submit using the means specified by the planning authority or who cannot comply with the data standards in that submission. Where the provider of information has a reasonable excuse, information cannot be refused. Planning authorities will be under a duty to accept—

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. I wonder whether the Minister has any statistics about the problem that these clauses are trying to solve. What is the extent of the difficulty such that, when applicants submit their planning applications to the planning authority, they then have to be manually entered or have to use a different system? Do we know the extent of that problem?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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We believe the problem to be quite considerable. I do not have statistics in front of me, but I will undertake to consult the department and see whether I can put some flesh on these bones, if the noble Baroness and others would find that helpful.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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On that point, it would be incredibly useful to have some sort of evidence base for us to consider. Can the Minister ask the department for that?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Yes. These clauses have not just been dreamed up out of the blue.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I am sure that they have not.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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We have received representations from a number of local authorities on the difficulties that they encounter and the sheer time that it takes to process information that does not conform to their systems.

As I was about to say, where the provider of information has a reasonable excuse, information cannot be refused. Planning authorities will be under a duty to accept and fully consider this information, so those with a reasonable excuse are not disadvantaged. Where information is initially refused by a planning authority, the clause provides the discretion to accept a compliant resubmission.

In summary, this clause will ensure that, by default, information received will be usable for all of the purposes to which planning authorities need it to be put. This will make the system more efficient, enabling planning authorities to work faster and focus on planning rather than data entry. That is the main point.

I turn next to Clause 81. Outdated and expensive software is one of the barriers that local authorities face to achieving more efficient ways of working in the planning process. Systems do not work with one another, forcing manual re-entry of information while locking that information away in formats that are not reusable. Clause 81 is essential for ensuring that planning authorities can benefit from the changes in this chapter through being supported by the right software, which can process standardised data.

The intent behind Clause 81 is to ensure the provision of software that is compatible with planning data requirements, so software approval requirements will follow on from the development of data standards set under Clause 78.

Our intention is to focus on exploring software that enables better availability of information and unlocks the ability to produce better tools for planning authorities. It is therefore not our intention to require the approval of all planning data software. We will continue working with planning authorities and the technology sector to determine when and where the use of this power will most benefit the planning system. In summary, this clause is essential for delivering effective, high-quality systems which the public rightly expect of government at all levels. I commend it to the Committee.

Amendment 181, in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, relates to Clause 83, as he explained, and aims to make public the result of engagement between the UK Government and devolved Administrations. I need first to explain how this amendment impacts on the planning data section of the Bill. It is important to understand what is in scope of Clause 83 in relation to the devolved Administrations.

As it stands, the only matters within devolved competence that planning data regulations could apply to would be Part 6 of the Bill, on environmental outcomes reports, or EORs. As such, provisions relating to consultation with the devolved Administrations must be read alongside the wider EOR clauses.

As set out in Committee in the other place, the Government are continuing to work with the devolved Administrations to understand whether there is scope to extend the EOR powers to provide a shared framework of powers across the UK. Once those discussions have concluded, the Government will bring forward any necessary amendments to both Part 6 and Part 3 to reflect the agreed position between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. I reassure my noble friend and noble Lords that, in bringing forward the new system of environmental outcomes reports, the Government are committed to respecting the devolution settlements.

In answer to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, our discussions at this stage are with the devolved Administrations rather than with, for example, the Scottish Parliament. I hope noble Lords will agree that we should not be required to make public the results of confidential policy discussions between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. For all these reasons, I hope that my noble friend will accept that his amendment is unnecessary.

Amendment 182, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State has consulted local authorities before establishing planning data regulations. Local authorities’ input on the new data requirements is of course important as we look to transition from a largely document-based planning system to one that is data-driven.

However, I reassure noble Lords that the intention of this amendment has already been built into the approach that the department has taken to design and test the new planning data requirements. As I have emphasised, the Government’s policy aim through planning data regulations is to create consistency on a national level. This includes the way local authorities process and publish planning data and will ensure that they are supported by suitable software to meet the new requirements.

Since 2019, we have been working with local authorities to test potential new requirements, such as data standards. This has provided valuable insights on the views of local authorities and the support that they will require to implement the new data requirements. We will continue this collaborative approach to establish planning data regulations.

Local authorities are the experts in the needs of their local areas, and these local views will form the basis of our national strategy around planning data, which these regulations will establish. We will continue to work collaboratively with local authorities, through running pilots and pathfinder projects, to gather our insights and design the new requirements.

I will bring another point to noble Lords’ attention. Planning data regulations under Clauses 78 and 80 will concern the form of planning data to be processed and published by local authorities. The planning information that these regulations will address will already be part of the planning system.

Given the collaborative approach that we are already taking to design the new requirements that will inform planning data regulations, I hope that I have been able to reassure the noble Baroness that local authorities’ views have been, and will continue to be, central to any planning data regulations that will be brought forward.

Duke of Montrose Portrait The Duke of Montrose (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. I was much encouraged by his suggestion earlier: it will be helpful if the Government provide guidelines for planning data operating systems at a very early stage. I realise that my amendment was covering a very small part of the subject under discussion, but it was merely for planning data. If the discussions with the Scottish Parliament produce something different, the question of disclosure will still be important.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I take my noble friend’s point. The point that I sought to make was that, of course, the outcome of our discussions with the Scottish Administration should be reflected in the eventual regulations and indeed in what is decided on the software. I hope that he will accept that our internal discussions with the Administration are part of Government-to-Government dealings and, in the normal course, should not be made public.

I was just about to cover very briefly a question that the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised about the possible transposition of existing planning records on to a new digital system. I am advised that we will not require planning authorities to completely move all their data on to a new digital planning system. The intention is for this new system to look forward prospectively, if I can put it that way.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Earl very much for that information. The danger then is that, if an old software system containing planning applications from before the new software was introduced is incompatible and is therefore not transitioned across, it will not be readable by the new system for future use. That issue ought to have been considered.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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That is a very relevant point. The point that has been made to us quite forcefully is that a lot of the software that is already in use is clunky and outdated, and that somehow a solution needs to be found. Clearly, the state in which systems are at the time any new system comes into play will vary from local authority to local authority. I will investigate that point further and, if I can elucidate the issue, I will gladly do so.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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In his normal calm and reassuring way, the Minister pointed out on Clause 81 that there may be some leeway regarding the software that could be used. However, I will read what is in the Bill, so that the Minister can explain why there will be leeway. The power is

“to require use of approved planning data software in England”,

and the clause says:

“Planning data regulations may make provision restricting or preventing a relevant planning authority in England from using or creating, or having any right in relation to, planning data … which … is not approved in writing by the Secretary of State.”


How will that leeway come in if the Bill says that the software has to be approved in writing by the Secretary of State, and that a planning authority in England cannot use it if it is not?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I simply come back to the point I am trying to emphasise, which is that the watchword here is collaboration, between central government and local authorities. We want to get this right to get a solution that local authorities themselves are comfortable with and which is compatible, authority to authority. Although the noble Lord is correct to quote the Bill as he has, our intention is not to require approval for all planning data software.

Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is impossible given how Clause 81 is written, because it makes provision for

“restricting or preventing a relevant planning authority”

if software is not approved by the Secretary of State. I understand the intention, but does the Minister agree that, as Clause 81 is written, what he wishes to see is actually not allowed by the Bill?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I can only supplement what the Bill says by saying that we do not intend to introduce any requirement for approval without the appropriate exploratory work and engagement with local authorities.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister for his customarily very detailed and helpful response. We talked briefly about the evidence base behind these clauses. It would be helpful, as he suggested, to have that provided. It would also be useful to know how up to date the information in that evidence base is.

Regarding Clause 81, will the Government support the changes they are proposing to local authorities to update their software with the resources to enable them to do so? It is pretty expensive, and we know that local authorities are not exactly flush at the moment. It will be important for there to be proper funding and resources for local authorities that need to change their software.

It was good to have the further clarification that the Minister gave to the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, just now that the Secretary of State would not have to approve all software. The Minister said that this is the intention. Unfortunately, as has just been said, that intention is not clear at all in the wording. I suggest that he mentions to his department and to officials that the wording, both in the Bill and in the Explanatory Notes, could perhaps be revisited to make that really clear, because many local authorities are worrying a lot about the implications of that wording. Perhaps a slight change might resolve some of the concerns.

Finally, my noble friend Lady Wilcox has now left, but she asked me to point out very politely to noble Lords that, in May 2020, the Welsh Assembly became the Senedd and they are now the Welsh Government.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Through the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I apologise for any misspeak that I may have committed. I also take on board the points she just made about costs in particular.

Clause 79 agreed.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
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.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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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.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I really appreciate the detail that the Minister is going into but would he concede that these initiatives are all by way of announcements rather than actual programmes for action? Every week, I hear from people who work in the industry about their uncertainty over the actual programme that the Government have and the strength of belief that they should put into the assurances issued because there have been so many false dawns. I do not want to rejoin the debate completely but I urge the Minister not just to read out a catalogue of initiatives and press releases but to tell us some hard news about progress planned and delivered.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I have already spoken for rather a long time. If I can add some further detail to what I have already said, I think it would be appropriate for me to write to noble Lords about that. I hope and believe that the Committee will welcome the announcements that the Government have made and the direction of travel that we have set. We could be criticised if we had not announced such a direction of travel because there is no disagreement in principle between any of us as to how important this agenda is.

On the goal that I have set out—the phasing out of fossil fuel boilers and the scaling up of heat pump deployment—we are currently taking steps towards decarbonising heat, including through the £450 million boiler upgrade scheme and a new market mechanism in the heating appliance market, along with heat network trials zoning. The Government are already working with industry and local authorities to develop new heat networks and improve existing ones, investing more than £500 million in funds and programmes. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that real money is being put behind these programmes.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I want to make one point on the quality of building, in particular the safety of new-build homes. In 2021, the average new-build property had 157 defects, up 96% from 2005. Would the Minister care to tell me when he thinks we might get back to the defect levels of 2005 and how the Government will achieve that?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I would love to tell the noble Baroness how that is to be done. I will consult my officials and do my best to do so.

Lord Crisp Portrait Lord Crisp (CB)
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My Lords, there have been many tremendous debates in your Lordships’ Chamber, and this has certainly been one of them. I am very grateful to everyone who spoke in support of the amendments that I and other noble Lords tabled. I am also grateful for the personal comments that noble Lords have made, and I will pass those straight on to the TCPA, which actually did the work behind the scenes on this entire campaign.

I was thinking of how to sum this up without going through everything. If the Government will forgive me, in today’s debate were the makings of a very decent levelling up Bill. If we could bring these things together, it would have ambition and vision, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and others, talked about. It would also be strategic and systemic; the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, made a point about the environmental and energy issues being deeply integrated with health and well-being. We need to see some systemic change if we are to make the differences that we are talking about. There are also practical things that can be done here—people have talked about levers and specifics. They are also guided by experience. I was very heartened to hear very experienced Members from different backgrounds, including noble Lords who understand these issues because they meet them in their professional lives. So, such a Bill would have a lot of important ingredients and a broadly shared vision.

I was struck by another thing, which planners will be pleased about. Planning is often seen as a negative, but all noble Lords described it as something that could enable the creation of the flourishing individuals, society and communities that we all want.

I will not take up any more time, except to respond to the noble Earl’s response. At Second Reading of the Healthy Homes Bill, I got a very similar response from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield. My response was that:

“I was not necessarily surprised and therefore not necessarily disappointed”.—[Official Report, 15/7/22; col. 1706.]


I am not surprised, but I would like to think that there is some route for discussion. The big difference here is between guidance and what is required. In my comments, I have been trying to hammer in that we need to build houses that are fit for purpose. We also need to return to the health and well-being issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and by me. I would be very happy to meet the Government if it were useful to discuss these things further. Maybe there is some useful discussion to be had around the NPPF. I am not sure whether there will be but, if not, I expect us to debate this again in this Chamber sometime after the Coronation—I am not quite sure when. I suspect that we may also be debating health and well-being.

I finish by returning to the noble Lord, Lord Young, who was kindly encouraging me to negotiate. I will look to him for advice on how best to do that, but I cannot resist replying to his very first comment, which noble Lords may remember—two hours and 17 minutes ago or whenever it was—that, as “Young and Crisp”, we sound like a supermarket selling lettuces. It reminded me of another Member—the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—making a similar comment a few years ago. In a debate on Africa, he said something similar about sandwiches and crisps. I can only say that I am extremely fortunate in my business partners.

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

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Debate

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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, as we have heard, these amendments relate to housing need and the homebuying process.

I will address Amendments 207 and 219A together. Amendment 207 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, seeks to enable the Secretary of State to include older people’s housing needs assessments in documentation related to local plans and require that local authorities consider the needs for housing for older people when preparing such plans. Amendment 219A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, seeks to enable the Secretary of State to require local planning authorities to have regard to the housing requirements of the student population, developed in conjunction with local higher education providers, when preparing their local plans. I recognise the noble Lord’s personal knowledge of this subject.

I entirely understand the sentiment behind both amendments and offer words for the comfort of both noble Lords. I believe I can first do so by highlighting that national policy already sets strong expectations in these precise areas. The existing National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that the size, type and tenure of housing needed for different groups in the community, including older people and students, should be assessed and reflected in planning policies. In 2019, we also published guidance to help local authorities implement the policies that can deliver on this expectation. Therefore, as regards student housing, we already have a clear policy in place, backed up by guidance, to deliver solutions designed locally. Any proposals to amend this would be considered as part of our review of the National Planning Policy Framework once this Bill receives Royal Assent.

I listened with a great care and respect to all that the noble Lord, Lord Best, said to draw attention to the housing needs of older people. The Government are absolutely on his wavelength in that regard. He was right to point out that there should be a variety and diversity of housing options for older people, as underscored by my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough. To further improve the diversity of housing options available to older people and boost the supply of specialist elderly accommodation, we recently consulted on proposals to strengthen the existing policy by adding a specific expectation that, when ensuring that the needs of older people are met, particular regard is given to retirement housing, housing with care and care homes. We know that those are important typologies of housing that can help support our ageing population.

Furthermore, it would be remiss of me not to point out that there is already a provision in the Bill setting out that the Secretary of State must issue guidance for local planning authorities on how their local plan and any supplementary plans, taken as a whole, should address housing needs that result from old age or disability. This is a key statutory provision.

So, again, we already have a clear policy in place on this issue, and we are proposing, as I have explained, to strengthen it to further support the supply of older people’s housing. I hope that this provides the noble Lord, Lord Best, with the assurances that he needs to withdraw his Amendment 207 at this stage.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his explanation of what is already in the policy and how it is going to be strengthened, and the national planning policy guidance. However, so far that has not brought forth anything like the numbers that are needed, so perhaps the Minister will be able to explain how that policy—which is very worthy and which I support—can be put into practice?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I say to the noble Baroness that I will try to do so as I go along. First, though, I will address Amendment 210, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, which would require local authorities to adopt policies to ensure that the marketing of housing accurately describes the nature of the tenure. I listened to all that she said about the need to review, or indeed do away with, leasehold tenure, and I hope she will forgive me if I do not repeat what I said on that subject in one of our earlier Committee debates. We shall also be debating Amendment 504GJG in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan on leasehold reform later on in Committee.

Buying a home is the largest investment that many of us will make in our lifetime, and we all want to be sure of what we are buying before we commit to purchase, so I absolutely understand the motivation behind the amendment. However, we do not believe that local plans have the legal remit to specify how property agents can market property in a local area. Even if they could, such an approach would create a complicated patchwork of requirements which would vary between one local planning authority area and another. That would be very difficult for property agents operating on a regional or national basis to navigate, and it would be confusing for buyers as well.

That is not to dismiss the concern that the noble Baroness has expressed—in the levelling up White Paper, the Government committed to working with industry to make sure that buyers have the critical information they need to know, including tenure type, lease length and service charges. The Government have also signalled our intention to legislate if this is required. We are currently considering options which will set a common approach to all property listings across England and Wales, providing certainty for buyers, sellers and estate agents, and we will set out further information in due course.

I turn next to Amendments 215 and 218, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley. These amendments both relate to local authority housing need, and this is where I hope I can answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Amendment 215 seeks to require a local plan to secure a sufficient supply of housing to meet or exceed the authority’s area requirement for housing over the plan period. The amendment also sets out that an area’s housing requirement must be derived from the housing targets and standard method prescribed in guidance by the Secretary of State. Amendment 218 seeks to set out in legislation that local authorities must have regard to any housing targets and the Government’s standard method for calculating housing need when preparing their local plan.

While I entirely understand the sentiment behind these amendments, the proposals would impose unnecessary constraints by seeking to put into primary legislation matters that are already addressed effectively, I contend, through national policy and guidance. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham made the point, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that national planning policy already sets out that local authorities should make sufficient provision for housing, including affordable housing, and that they must take this into account when preparing their local plans.

Additionally, again in response to the noble Baroness, policy and guidance set out how local authorities should establish their housing requirements, and they make it clear that the standard method for assessing local housing need should be the starting point for establishing housing requirements in the plan-making process, in all but exceptional circumstances. That is not a straitjacket and nor is it laissez-faire; our planning policies already allow authorities to choose to plan for more homes than required to meet need, and we have consulted on proposed changes to national policy designed to empower local authorities to go further where that is right for their area.

It is right, however, that local communities can respond to local circumstances. To introduce more flexibility to take account of local circumstances, we are proposing some changes through our consultation on reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework. These are expressly designed to support local authorities to set local housing requirements that respond to demographic and affordability pressures while at the same time being realistic, given local constraints.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that we will be talking about neighbourhood plans later this evening if we get there—I hope we do, otherwise on Thursday—and we can return to the issues that he has raised on that topic. But I would just like to make a general point about housing targets: local housing need is not a housing target. The standard method for assessing local housing need is used by councils to inform the preparation of their local plans. Local areas are then free to take into account constraints and opportunities when determining their actual housing targets such as green belts, AONBs, and so on, that prevent them allocating enough sites to meet need. There are some councils that choose to plan for more homes than their local housing need number; nor does the local housing need method dictate where homes should go. It is up to councils to decide what sorts of homes can be built where.

Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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Can I put the question the other way around? The noble Lord used phrases like “councils can choose” and “in conjunction with their local authority”. Can I ask about councils that choose not to provide supportive housing for people in need, that choose not to provide places for ex-offenders, and that rely on councils with a conscience to do those things? It seems to me that councils can choose to do very little if they want, including building homes, and certainly to not provide for the other groups that we have heard about—that is what worries me. We need more compulsion across all councils to provide for all of the population.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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In those circumstances, local plans can be checked against the assessment of need and can be shown to be defective where that is deemed to be the case—so it is not as if there is no oversight of what local authorities are doing. What we do not want to do—and I hope the noble Baroness agrees—is to get perilously close to a one-size-fits-all, top-down target mode of acting. We are trying to strike a balance between showing local authorities how to do the job that they are there to do and have been elected to do, while at the same time not being guilty of dictating or second-guessing local circumstances.

We do already have a clear policy in place on these issues, and we are proposing to clarify and strengthen this further. I hope my noble friend will feel comfortable in not moving his amendments when they are reached.

Before I finish, I will respond briefly to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on his points about buildout. In large part, he was anticipating the debate we look set to have in a later group, which begins with Amendment 261 to Clause 104, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. However, I just say that the Bill already contains provisions to tackle slow buildout by developers. Clause 105 gives local planning authorities powers to determine planning applications made by a person connected to an earlier permission on that same land which was not begun or has been carried out unreasonably slowly. Developers should know that planning authorities expect new residential developments to come forward at a reasonable rate.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, has raised a very important issue about end-of-life care and how the planning system can be encouraged to prepare for the needs that will arise in the not-too-distant future. It is an argument that we on these Benches absolutely support; I will just expand it ever so slightly by saying that whenever there is a big allocation for a housing site, local residents immediately say there will be a huge pressure on primary healthcare—GP services. Although the community infrastructure levy enables planning authorities to try to extract some funding from the levy for improvements to primary healthcare services, it is often not that possible when there are so many other big demands placed on the levy—highways infrastructure, education, outdoor play space and so on.

Often, certainly in my part of the country, where house prices and land values are lower, the levy is therefore also lower and is unable to support the development of essential provision for primary healthcare. It is an area that I guess we may want to explore when we get to discussion about the replacement of the community infrastructure levy. I thought I would raise it now, in this context, because whichever of the Front Bench team is responding may be able to give me an answer. With that, I clearly support the amendments.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, the two amendments in this group, Amendments 213A and 312I, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, look to ensure, as she explained, that local planning authorities should consider the health and social care facilities needed for their area when considering future development. I am sure that we can agree that it is important to ensure that we have the right health and social care facilities in place where they are needed: that is why this is already a consideration as part of planning policy, guidance and legislation.

The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that when setting strategic policies, local planning authorities should set out an overall strategy for the pattern, scale and design quality of places, and make sufficient provision for community facilities, including for health infrastructure. The Government have set out in planning guidance how the need for health facilities, as well as other health and well-being impacts, can be considered as part of the plan-making and decision-making process. Plan-making bodies will need to discuss their emerging strategy for development at an early stage with directors of public health, NHS England, local health and well-being boards, and sustainability and transformation partnerships/integrated care systems, depending on the local context and the implications of development on health and care infrastructure. The National Planning Policy Framework must, as a matter of law, be given regard to in preparing the development plan, and is a material consideration in planning decisions.

We have also set out, in the consultation on reforms to national planning policy, that we are intending to undertake a wider review of the NPPF to support the programme of changes to the planning system, and, as part of this, we will consider updates needed to reflect the importance of better environmental and health outcomes. In addition, as part of the new infrastructure levy system, local authorities will be required to prepare an infrastructure delivery strategy. This will set out the local planning authority’s priorities for spending levy proceeds.

Section 204Q(11) requires levy regulations to determine the consultation process and procedures that must be followed when preparing an infrastructure delivery strategy. This can include which bodies must be consulted in order for charging authorities to determine their infrastructure priorities for spending the levy. Such bodies could include integrated care boards to ensure that health infrastructure is considered in the preparation of the infrastructure delivery strategy. We can also make provision that integrated care boards must assist charging authorities with the preparation of an infrastructure delivery strategy. That is Clause 93.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Debate

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Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, a range of questions have been asked on this group of amendments. It might be helpful if I begin with the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and set out why the Government are bringing forward this measure in the Bill.

Local people can, quite understandably, be resistant to new development in their area if they have little say over what gets built and it does not reflect their preferences. However, many of us know that residents are often more supportive when they can play a direct role in shaping that development, including what it looks like. The Government are looking to deliver more good quality homes in the right places. To help achieve that, we want to encourage some intensification of development in existing residential areas, particularly areas of low density in towns and cities where this has the support of residents.

Clause 99 introduces street vote development orders, which will provide residents with a new opportunity to take a proactive role in the planning process and bring forward the development that they want to see on their streets. This new route to planning permission will support wider local efforts in bringing forward developments of new or more spacious homes in places where they are needed most. Amendments 248, 251, 253A, 254 and 257 all deal with how street votes will fit with the wider planning system and related requirements, and I propose to address them as a group.

In moving Amendment 248, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham emphasised the desirability of achieving maximum certainty in the planning system. The first thing for me to say is that we want to create a predictable system where residents have a high degree of certainty on what development is likely to be permissible before they prepare a street vote development order proposal and that we want to make the system accessible and easy to use. To achieve that, we propose to do things a bit differently with this new tool. We want to depart from existing practice, which relies heavily on the interpretation of local policies to determine whether a development is appropriate, and move to an approach where proposals are assessed against more precise requirements which will be prescribed in regulations. These prescribed regulations will include what type of development and what type of uses are allowed, as well as detailed design requirements such as floor limits, ceiling heights and the extent to which a plot can be used.

We want to test this through consultation ahead of drafting the secondary legislation. These requirements will provide residents with that certainty and ease of use and be designed to ensure that street votes development is high quality and that any local impacts are managed. While I understand the intentions behind my noble friend’s amendment, it would, if agreed, prevent us applying this new approach and therefore I am unable to support it. I emphasise that this is an issue that we intend to consult on as part of a wider consultation on the detail of the measure to ensure that a wide spectrum of views is considered and that the policy delivers for communities.

I turn next to Amendment 251 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. Where there is a street vote development order, we of course wish to see the resultant impacts of construction on residents and the local environment minimised. The powers we are seeking would allow the Secretary of State to prescribe in regulations the documents that must accompany a street vote proposal. They could potentially include a code of construction practice. We intend to consult on what these requirements should be as part of the wider consultation on the detail of the measure. Setting out the documentary requirements in the Bill would prevent us considering this, alongside other detailed matters, through consultation.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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Does the Minister accept that as part of that consultation we should speak to the Local Government Association or other representatives of local government? The drawing up of such codes and so on would almost certainly involve professionals in the planning departments of local authorities. They are at breaking point already—they are greatly stretched—and these street votes can presumably pop up at any time. They will not necessarily be part of a planned workload for local authorities. One of our concerns is that if some of these codes and other things that might be needed to support street votes are not very clear in secondary legislation or the SI that brings it in, it will put an incredible burden on those hard-pressed local authority planning departments. That is probably why the LGA has spoken out so strongly against this proposal, or one of the reasons. If we are going to do some extensive consultation on this before we see secondary legislation on it—which begs the question of why it could not have come in secondary legislation in the first place—that issue needs to be considered.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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We want to engage in extensive consultation. I have every confidence that the Government will want to garner opinion from sources that have expertise of the kind that the noble Baroness mentions, and I see no reason why the LGA will not be included in that. If I can provide her with greater certainty, I will certainly do so by letter. I will be talking more about the broader consultation process in a minute or two.

The effect of Amendment 253A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, would be to exclude development in any area with a designated neighbourhood forum from the scope of street vote development orders. This would mean that, as he explained, street vote development orders could not be used in areas where, I suggest, they would be of most benefit, for example, where local people want more homes, or where greenfield land is under particular pressure from housing development. I reassure the noble Lord that neighbourhood planning will continue to play an important role in the planning system. Indeed, other measures in the Bill reinforce this. Where street vote development orders operate, communities will continue to be able to participate in neighbourhood planning. Indeed, our intended consultation will give neighbourhood planning forums and other interested parties an opportunity to shape the policy and ensure that it delivers for communities.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I thank the noble Earl for giving way. He has perhaps got the cart in front of the horse there. My amendment refers to neighbourhood plans which are in force. It seeks to make sure the decisions the public take on all the issues that he has just outlined as being highly desirable—those which have completed and formed a neighbourhood plan—are not then subject to a further random challenge from a particular street vote. It is not a question of the preparation of a neighbourhood plan; my amendment would not apply in that situation.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I take the noble Lord’s point. This highlights again how important it will be to ensure that the results of the consultation reflect issues such as those the noble Lord has raised. It may be that the general feeling is to go along the road the noble Lord has suggested. I do not want to pre-empt the consultation result in that sense, but let me reflect further on what he has said. Again, I will be happy to write to him if I have further wisdom to impart at this stage.

I can understand the reasons for tabling Amendment 254, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, spoke. I do not, however, agree that it is necessary. As a general point, biodiversity net gain will be an important point of the planning system going forward. It will ensure biodiversity must be enhanced when new development occurs and habitats will be impacted. Having said that, my colleagues at Defra have recently published the Government’s response to their consultation on the implementation of biodiversity net gain—BNG. This response makes clear that certain types of development will be exempt from BNG requirements.

The powers in the Bill require regulations to specify the development which can be consented to through a street vote development order. We are likely to use those powers to specify a range of development, from more minor developments such as roof extensions to more extensive development. In line with the wider policy approach, it is therefore likely to be appropriate to exempt some forms of street vote development from BNG requirements. That is why we are seeking the power in the Bill to both modify and exclude BNG provisions under Schedule 7A.

The noble Baroness asked in particular about conservation areas, and I will touch on that. I recognise the important role that conservation areas play in protecting local heritage. Proposals for street vote development orders will be independently examined against a set of prescribed requirements. The importance of local heritage will be taken into account in the design of these requirements. In addition, street vote development orders cannot be used to consent to the development of listed buildings and scheduled monuments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about infrastructure and perhaps I could reply to her in this particular context. We recognise that improvements to local infrastructure may be needed to support street vote development. Where street vote development takes place, local authorities will be able to secure value from the new development by charging a specific community infrastructure levy rate targeted at street vote development. This will ensure that value generated by the street vote development can be captured and used to secure infrastructure and affordable housing that will support the local area.

I turn briefly to the issue of whether it is appropriate to seek a delegated power in this case. As Defra’s recently published implementation plans make clear, much of the detailed implementation for biodiversity net gain will be set out in secondary legislation. It is therefore also appropriate to set out the biodiversity net gain arrangements for street vote development orders in secondary legislation to ensure that the systems work in harmony.

I can understand the reasons for tabling Amendment 257 in the name of the noble Baroness; however, I do not agree it is required. Clause 100(3) of the Bill allows for local authorities to expedite the procedure for setting community infrastructure levy rates for street vote development where local authorities do not have immediate plans to update or introduce CIL rates within their authority.

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Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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The noble Earl has mentioned, a couple of times now, independent examination of street voting. Does that mean the idea is that we will have a whole new round of public inquiry processes for every street vote that is introduced?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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No, it most certainly does not. Our intention is to appoint the Planning Inspectorate to examine proposals and make the street vote development orders on behalf of the Secretary of State.

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I wonder if I could help the noble Earl. For neighbourhood plans, there is an independent examiner who is not actually drawn from the inspectorate but obviously has to be a qualified professional person of independent standing according to an agreed register. I would have thought that, bearing in mind that is a task that is bringing forward a significant number of neighbourhood plans each year and the Government intend to bring forward more, there would be a substantial multiplier effect if street votes go ahead. So the pool of independent examiners may have to be deepened and widened somewhat beyond the Planning Inspectorate if he intends to proceed.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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That is a helpful suggestion, which I am happy to feed in.

On Amendments 252 and 253, in the name of the noble Baroness, the Government recognise that leaseholders will often have an interest in proposals for street vote development. Leaseholders will be able to be part of a group that can bring forward a proposal for a street vote development order if they are registered to vote in a local council election at an address in the street area on a prescribed date. If a proposal passes examination, a referendum will be held on it. Subject to the outcome of consultation, the Government envisage making a provision so that individuals, including leaseholders, who are registered to vote in the local council election at an address in the street area, as well as commercial rate payers there, will be eligible to vote. Again, we intend to consult on this proposal and on our proposals for referendum approval thresholds as part of a wider consultation on the detail of the measure.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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I apologise. The noble Earl said that commercial developments in an area would have a vote, but how would they be on the electoral roll? Clause 99 says they would be.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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It is not that businesses would be on the electoral roll. If I misspoke, what I meant to say was that residents who are registered to vote in a local council election at an address in the street area on a prescribed date will be eligible to vote as part of this arrangement, as well as commercial rate payers in the area.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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So could Tesco, for instance, have a vote, if there was a little Tesco Express on the street?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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The intention is that, if there is a commercial business paying commercial business rates, it should be allowed a voice in this process.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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This gets more interesting by the day.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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No doubt this will be the subject of further debate—

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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And consultation.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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Yes, and consultation.

Before I speak to the government amendments, I will turn to Amendments 255 and 256, also in the name of the noble Baroness, which deal broadly with issues of propriety. I recognise the valuable expertise that organisations like the Association of Electoral Administrators can bring, but I do not agree with the noble Baroness that it is necessary to place a statutory duty on the Secretary of State to engage with them. As part of our work to develop the detail of the street votes policy for regulations, we will seek a wide range of views, as I mentioned earlier, from organisations such as the Association of Electoral Administrators and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives to help us to get the secondary legislation right and to ensure that the policy operates effectively. However, it is right that the Secretary of State will be required to consult the Electoral Commission, given its important statutory role to ensure free and fair elections and polls.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I hear what the noble Earl is saying. In that respect, our amendment was more to seek the views of the Association of Electoral Administrators about the level of pressure that might be put on those groups—I made this point on planning teams earlier—if they were involved in a number of different referenda in their areas at the same time, for example. These can come out of the blue—we would not know when—so there are issues around how they are resourced to deal with that kind of uncertainty in their workloads.

Two big questions have come out what the noble Earl has said. First, as the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, said, it seems that we are going to have a whole new inspectorate. We had a light-hearted suggestion that it might be called “Ofstreet”, but that is for later determination. Who is going to pay for that inspectorate? Secondly, there is the issue of referendums. Referendums can be quite expensive—we have done them on parking issues in my borough. It costs quite a lot of money because you have to be very careful about how they are done to make sure they are fair. Who pays for those?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, if I may say so, that is a very helpful intervention from the noble Baroness. She raises a number of key points, some of which will no doubt be covered in the consultation, but if I can expand on that I will be happy to write to her.

On Amendment 256, I would like to make it clear that the Government take the potential for conflicts of interest seriously. I am however confident that local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate, both of which we envisage having an important role in the street vote process, have appropriate safeguards in place to minimise conflicts of interest. It is a matter for local authorities to determine their own conflict of interest policies. I have every confidence that all local authorities treat conflicts of interest seriously and have robust procedures in place for both their members and officers. It would not be proportionate to legislate that local authorities publish guidance on managing conflicts of interest specifically on street votes, although no local authority would be prohibited from doing so if they so wished.

Our intention is to appoint the Planning Inspectorate to examine proposals and make street vote development orders on behalf of the Secretary of State. As the independent examiner, the Planning Inspectorate has its own conflicts of interest policy to support the proper and efficient allocation of work. In addition, chartered town planners, who may support residents in preparing proposals, are bound by the Royal Town Planning Institute’s code of professional conduct. This includes provisions to declare and avoid conflicts of interest.

I turn briefly to the government amendments in this group. The Government are committed to ensuring that street vote development is subject to the same principles in relation to environmental impact assessment as development enabled by other routes to planning permission. This is consistent with the Government’s commitment on non-regression of environmental protections. Without amending the Bill, it would be unclear for qualifying groups and relevant bodies how the EIA requirements would apply to street vote development. Amendments 257A, 504H, 504I, 504J and 509A allow for the Secretary of State to make regulations modifying the existing process under the EIA regulations so they operate effectively for street vote development orders. Where development that is consented under a street vote development order is EIA development, it will continue to be prohibited unless an assessment has been carried out and the environmental impacts are considered when making the order. Amendments 248A, 256A and 258A make technical and consequential provision to the Town and Country Planning Act, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 and the Elections Act 2022. These minor changes to these Acts—

Lord Stunell Portrait Lord Stunell (LD)
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I thank the noble Earl for giving way—I realise he has a mammoth task this afternoon. Amendment 258A introduces a new schedule to the Bill. It appears to be five pages long, which raises the total text to some 15 pages. I wonder whether he could say a little bit more about that schedule and what it is attempting to achieve. I am looking at paragraph 1(7), which is obviously difficult to interpret because it inserts bits into other legislation. Maybe he would like to write to me about this. Really quite important stuff is being parachuted into the Bill, on top of all the uncertainty we have been discussing. I wonder whether he would like to sketch in how the new schedule, which I suppose is going to renumbered as Schedule 8, fits into the general structure of this clause.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I appreciate the noble Lord’s question and his interest in that amendment; I understand why he felt he should have asked the question. My advice is that, despite its size, this additional schedule represents a minor and technical change, which is necessary to ensure the effective operation of the street votes process and to ensure that it is integrated into the wider planning system. However, I am happy to write to him with further and better particulars.

I hope that the Committee will feel more comfortable with the provisions as I have explained them, and that the government amendments will be accepted when they are reached.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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Near the beginning of my speech, I asked the Minister if he would be able to define a street. Could he do so now?

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am so sorry I omitted to reply to the noble Baroness; I will write to her. It is a question I ask officials myself. It is an issue which will be decided in the consultation because, as she rightly said, there will be instances where a street, as such, does not exist. For example, you might have a small community of houses where the owners or residents may wish to apply under this procedure. In short, this is an issue to be determined under the consultation.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, the hour is late, and we are less than half way through the targeted groups for the day, so I will be as brief as I can in winding up this fairly lengthy debate. I note that all those who spoke to their amendments had at some point held elective office, either as councillors or in other place—and, in some cases, both. That may explain the lukewarm—I think that is the best adjective I can use—reception for this proposal. The conclusion I draw from this is that the role of a think tank is to think and to come up with radical policies; the role of government is not to fast-track those into primary legislation but to subject them to critical scrutiny and consultation, and then progress to the next stage. The more I listened to the debate, and the more I heard my noble friend the Minister use the word “consultation”, the more I have come to the conclusion that, while I said in my opening speech that this was a policy in the process of gestation, it is in fact the size of a pinhead, as far as I can see, when it comes to movement towards delivery.

I will now pick up some of the points raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, struck a note of caution about the policy and agreed with me that it was okay to have street votes as a process of feeding into the formulation of a district plan, but she wanted more clarity and asked for assurances about conservation areas for which an assurance was not given. She asked relevant questions about the role of tenants, voting thresholds and declaration of interests. As I understand it, a short-term tenant will have a vote, but the owner, who is not in the property at the moment, will not. There are a lot of issues behind entitlement to vote, which I will come to a moment.

I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, was a Minister in the DCLG in 2010, when the Prescott policy of not-so-gentle densification was overturned—his head is stationary, so I do not know whether he was or not; now it has moved vertically, indicating that he was indeed in the department then. He made the point—I will come to it in a moment—about the priority of the neighbourhood plan. One of the worrying things that my noble friend the Minister said in his reply was that, where a neighbourhood has gone through the whole process of consultation, and has developed and had approved a neighbourhood plan, and then within that neighbourhood a street comes up with a proposal which is in conflict with it, the street vote has priority because my noble friend was unable to accept the amendment.

The same applies to my amendment. When one has gone through the whole process of formulating a district plan, residents throughout the district feel confident in the outcome. They then find that it can be overturned by a street vote. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, again highlighted the potential for neighbourhood conflict, which is one of the things that really worries me about this. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister, whose patience and tolerance have been extended to the extreme over the past hour and a half. I note that he did not reply to the points that I made about the DPRR report, which made some scathing criticisms and suggested that whole sections of this Bill should be removed. Nor did he indicate when the Government might reply to that report.

My noble friend said that the street vote could go ahead with the support of residents, but we do not know what is meant by “support” or “residents”. As I read it, there will have to be an assessor; it will have to go through a process. My understanding is that an inspector—probably from the Planning Inspectorate—would be appointed to assess it. We did not get an answer to the question of who pays for the PINS inspector who is going to assess the proposal. The ratepayers will have a vote, but it is not quite clear who will exercise that vote on behalf of the business. If there is one very small business and one huge business, do they both have one vote? Who exercises it?

The conclusion that I draw from this is that the best thing for the Government to do is to drop this clause. Frankly, the Bill is far too long; this is not urgent; there is no great demand for it. That was quite clear from what my noble friend said whenever he was asked a question: “This is subject to consultation”. We should have had the consultation before we had the legislation. Although I will withdraw my amendment, I suspect that if I did not, I would win the vote quite comfortably on the basis of the exchanges that we have had so far. In the meantime, however, I thank all noble Lords, and particularly my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Before we hear from my noble friend, I want to say that Section 293 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 defines what is Crown land and goes on to make it clear what is an appropriate authority for the purposes of what is being introduced in Section 293B, down to and including,

“in relation to Westminster Hall and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft … the Lord Great Chamberlain and the Speakers of the House of Lords and the House of Commons acting jointly”

being the appropriate authority.

I want to ask my noble friend about something because I simply do not understand it. There is an existing Section 293A, which as it stands is called “Urgent Crown development: application”; it has almost the same name as new Section 293B. I completely understand that the existing legislation does not appear to include all the provisions relating to how the Secretary of State deals with such an application and how the Secretary of State might give permission, so it is probably defective. But then I do not understand why all this is being added in and Section 293A is not being repealed. Perhaps my noble friend can explain that to me.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, looking first at this clause as a totality, I will begin by explaining briefly the purpose of the proposed measure. The purpose of Clause 101 is to update the existing provisions for development by the Crown that is of national importance and required urgently by providing a new, faster, more effective and efficient route for seeking planning permission. It also provides a new route for nationally important development that is not urgent. The objective of these reforms is to ensure that planning decisions can be made in a timely and proportionate way on development that is of national importance and is promoted by the Crown.

Let me banish what I have perceived from this debate is a misconception. A special urgency procedure for urgent and nationally important Crown development has existed in legislation for many years. The purpose of the clause is to update this route so it can be used more effectively to deal with urgent national crises and supplement it with a new route for making a planning decision for non-urgent planned Crown development which is of national importance.

The Government believe that, where a Crown development is of genuine national significance, the Secretary of State, who is democratically accountable to Parliament, should be able to make a planning decision rather than an individual local planning authority answerable to its local community. The Secretary of State is best placed to take a national, balanced and impartial view of the need for development.

Let me explain that nationally important but non-urgent applications will still be considered against the plan-led approach we advocate through the Bill, and local communities will be given their opportunity to give their views and have these taken into account. Again, there is precedent for this type of approach within Section 62A of the Town and Country Planning Act, where planning applications can be submitted directly to the Secretary of State. It is thought that this route would be suitable for development such as new prisons and extensions to the defence estate.

All sorts of hares have been set running on this provision, and it is most important for me to emphasise that the urgent route that we are introducing would be used sparingly where—and only where—it can be demonstrated that development is needed urgently and is nationally important. Those are high bars, but the route could, for example, be used for development needed on Crown land to develop medical centres in the event of a pandemic. Such development will need to be operational in a matter of weeks so decisions can be made very quickly. Other examples could include accommodation needed urgently in the event of a future influx of refugees, or military training facilities.

I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for at least part of what he said, if not for all of it. Press reports have been misleading on the issue of housing illegal migrants. As I have said, the power can be used only for Crown development which is of both national importance and needed urgently. As I have said, this is a high bar, and Crown bodies making an application will need to justify that using this route is appropriate.

This does not concern any situation that we may currently be facing on illegal migrants. In the first place, it is worth bearing in mind that this power will not take effect straightaway, contrary to reports in the press. The Bill needs to finish its passage through Parliament and then we will need to lay regulations and produce guidance before this can properly be brought into force. That will take time. To this end, it may not be a suitable route for the immediate issue of housing of migrants to address the current immigration backlogs. In the case of asylum accommodation on MoD bases, it will be for the Home Secretary to decide whether to bring forward an application when the powers are in place.

We recognise that the procedure for this urgent route is not the same as the more commonly known statutory procedure for determining planning applications. It is therefore, I say again, a route that will be used sparingly. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, that those promoting the development must clearly demonstrate that there is an urgent need for the development, that timely decisions cannot be delivered by other planning routes and that it is therefore in the wider public interest that the planning decision is accelerated using the new procedure.

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Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for once again using his very detailed, particular knowledge and expertise of issues around the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall. As ever, we are grateful to him for speaking up for those communities. The question he asks is an important one: why should anybody be exempt from proposals in this Bill, never mind the Duchy of Cornwall?

I will start with Amendment 504GJI on leasehold. We have had long and protracted discussions around leasehold in the course of discussions on this Bill previously. My noble friend Lord Berkeley referred to the Law Commission report on leasehold and the recommendations that people should be able to buy out freehold. I cannot see any reason that Law Commission report has not been acted on, and I hope the Minister will be able to enlighten us about that.

Certainly, it does not seem to us that there should be exemptions that sit outside of that for any reason. If the Law Commission has looked closely at the rationale for the exemptions that were put forward by the Duchy and not found those to be reasonable, it seems that the Government should treat the Duchy of Cornwall in the same way as they treat everybody else. As we have heard the Secretary of State say number of times now, if the Government intend to end the feudal leasehold system, will the Duchy of Cornwall be exempt from that, too, or will the Duchy of Cornwall’s properties be included in that legislation? If the Minister cannot provide the answer today, I am happy to take an answer in writing to that question.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley was kind enough to provide information about the issue related to the Isles of Scilly steamship company to us in advance of today’s session, and the point that he makes is a very valid one. For the communities on the Isles of Scilly, this really is an issue of levelling up. He has given us information on the very steep fare increases on that steamship company, and I understand the fare is now some £89. People on the Isles of Scilly will need to use that service. Their choice is either to travel by air, which we do not want to encourage, or to use this steamship company. A strange situation has developed here; it is a situation that I wish I had had in my borough, where when you find you have to go into competition to deliver something if you use government funding, you suddenly find, after 10 years of asking for government money, that the money has appeared miraculously. That does seem a very strange situation. There needs to be close attention to the way these issues are treated. They are issues of levelling up, because communities on the Isles of Scilly want to know they are being treated in the same way as other communities in the United Kingdom. I support my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s amendment.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I will start by addressing Amendment 258 and then move on to Amendment 504GJI, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Amendment 258 would remove land in the Duchy of Cornwall from the definition of “Crown land”, as part of planning law. The noble Lord asked what the definition of “Crown land” was, and I apologise for not answering him in the previous debate. It is set out in Section 293 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as my noble friend Lord Lansley rightly indicated in the last debate. It is, broadly, land in which there is a Crown or a Duchy interest—I shall expand on that in a second. I appreciate that the noble Lord tabled a number of Private Member’s Bills concerning the treatment of the Crown and the Duchy of Cornwall, and I admire his tenacity in this regard.

For the benefit of the Committee, I will set out some factual and historical background. For a long time, the Crown was not subject to planning control, but, in 2006, provisions within the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 made it subject to planning permission, subject to special modifications. These recognise not only the unique nature of operational Crown land—prisons and military bases, for example—but the uniqueness and importance of the royal estates.

It is important first to understand the complex status of the Duchy of Cornwall. The title “Duke of Cornwall” and the inheritance of the Duchy were created in 1337 by a charter that carries the authority of an Act of Parliament. By virtue of that charter, the Duchy vests in the eldest son of the sovereign, also being heir apparent. Where there is no son and heir, the estate reverts to the Crown. Craies on Legislation notes:

“That is why … the Crown’s prerogative attaches to the lands of the Duchy of Cornwall, for the reason that they never entirely cease to be Crown lands”.


In short, there is always the possibility of the Duchy reverting to the sovereign, as his or her property. For this reason, the Duchy never entirely ceases to be Crown lands. For example, in recent times, King George VI had no son, so, on his accession, there was no Duke of Cornwall and the Duchy remained with King George VI.

Removing the Duchy of Cornwall from the definition of “Crown land” within Section 293 of the Town and Country Planning Act risks disrupting this well-established constitutional arrangement. This could open widespread implications for not just planning but how the Duchy is treated in law more widely. I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, but I am not sure that it is appropriate to open up this debate as part of the Bill. From his previous experience, he will appreciate that it would not be right for a single individual or party to seek to change the law on the way the Duchy of Cornwall is treated. If that is done at all, it has to be done with cross-party support. In addition, a Bill affecting the Duchy requires the King’s consent and sometimes also the Prince’s consent. For the reasons I set out, the Government have no intention to change the definitions of “Crown land” at this time, especially where this concerns changes that could affect His Majesty’s hereditary rights.

Amendment 504GJI addresses the impact that recommendations in the Law Commission’s 2020 report on enfranchisement would have on the Government’s levelling-up and regeneration objectives, including for leaseholders on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The Government are committed to making it easier and cheaper for leaseholders to purchase their freeholds and extend their leases, and we are grateful to the Law Commission for its detailed report on enfranchisement reform. This report addressed a range of matters relating to the qualifying criteria for enfranchisement and lease extensions, including the applicability of these to leaseholders of the Crown, the Duchy of Cornwall and the Duchy of Lancaster. In January 2022, the Government consulted on Law Commission proposals that would improve access to enfranchisement and the right to manage. I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that this is a long-term and complex reform programme with many interdependencies, and it will take time to get the detail right. Once it is enacted, the effect will be felt for generations, so we are determined that this work consider all the implications with care.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
I agree wholeheartedly with Amendment 281C in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. The Bill is riddled with two very worrying threads of intention. Yet again, even more powers will be given to the Secretary of State to intervene and, yet again, exactly how, when and why are to be given in subordinate legislation: the often-mentioned revised NPPF, the contents of which we still do not know. The power given to a Secretary of State to overturn the legal and democratic process is necessary but rarely used—and then only in extreme circumstances—for very good reasons. However, that has been undermined in recent years and most recently by announcements by the current Secretary of State. I therefore understand and share the noble and learned Lord’s concerns.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, all the amendments in this group relate to the enforcement clauses in the Bill and it may be helpful if I begin by explaining briefly the rationale for the package of enforcement measures that the Bill contains. The Government recognise that effective enforcement is vital to maintain public confidence and trust in the planning system. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, made that point very powerfully. Local planning authorities already have a wide range of enforcement powers, with strong penalties for non-compliance, to tackle breaches of planning control. The Bill’s measures are intended to strengthen those powers so that local planning authorities are better able to take the robust action their communities want to see.

Amendments 275 to 279 inclusive all deal with Clause 107 on enforcement time limits. Amendments 275 and 277, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, seek to retain the current four-year time limit for commencing enforcement action against breaches of planning control where the breach has a significant impact on the local environment. Amendments 276 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, seeks to retain the four-year time period after which enforcement action cannot be brought where there has been a breach of planning control consisting of the change of use of any building to use as a single dwelling house. Amendment 278 in the name of the noble Earl would require consultation to take place and a report to be published before Clause 107 can come into force. The noble Earl’s further amendment, Amendment 279, seeks to add to the Bill confirmation that breaches of planning control which are currently immune from enforcement action will remain immune following the passing of the Act.

Let me give the Committee some background on the need for Clause 107. Currently, Section 171B(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 imposes a four-year time limit on local planning authorities beginning enforcement action against a breach of planning control consisting of building, engineering, mining or other operations. Section 171B(2) imposes the same four-year time limit for a breach of planning control consisting of a change of use of any building to use as a single dwelling house. All other breaches of planning control are subject to a 10-year time limit. However, we have heard from key stakeholders the very point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, that there are some cases where the current four-year time limit is not long enough and the opportunity to commence enforcement action is inadvertently missed.

For example, a person may not initially raise concerns with a local planning authority, assuming a neighbouring development has the correct permissions or will not cause disturbance. Should the development prove disruptive, they may then try to come to an agreement with the person responsible for it. However, by the time they raise their concerns with the local planning authority, the opportunity to commence enforcement action may have passed.

We have also heard that having two timescales for enforcement can unnecessarily complicate cases. For example, where a new building has been constructed on land, enforcement action could be taken against the construction of the building itself, subject to the four-year rule, or against the material change of use of the land brought about by the construction of the building and its subsequent use, subject to the 10-year rule. This uncertainty can lead to lengthy and resource-intensive appeals and court cases debating the starting point for immunity.

Clause 107 seeks to address all these issues by making the time limit 10 years for all breaches of planning control in England. This will create greater certainty and consistency for all parties involved in the planning enforcement process and ensure that the opportunity to commence enforcement action is not inadvertently missed. To be very clear, Clause 107 is not about delaying the enforcement process unnecessarily. The expectation will remain that local planning authorities should act promptly to investigate and remedy breaches of planning control as quickly as possible.

Amendment 278 is about consultation. As I have already explained, we have engaged with key stakeholders during the preparation of the Bill. This package of enforcement measures is what the profession identified would most help it carry out its job more effectively. On the noble Earl’s Amendment 279, we will make transitional provisions in regulations to ensure that breaches of planning control that are currently immune from enforcement action will remain immune following the passage of the Bill. I hope that, with these reassurances, he will agree that these amendments are not required.

Amendment 280, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, seeks to probe how technology can be used to support the new planning process. The Government share this ambition. We are keen to modernise the planning process and make better use of technology; amendments in Chapter 1 of Part 3 of the Bill, on planning data, are designed to do just that.

The new enforcement warning notices that we are introducing through the Bill may be served in a number of ways, including by electronic means, but I do not think it would be appropriate to make this the only means of serving such a notice. Enforcement warning notices are a planning enforcement tool. It is therefore vital that, if a local planning authority is beginning enforcement action, those against whom action is being taken receive the notices. Some do not use or have access to digital communication tools, and we must ensure that they are not disadvantaged. There is also the issue that an enforcement warning notice may be served on someone who has not engaged with the local planning authority and so the authority would not have an email address for them. I hope that, with this explanation, the noble Baroness will agree that this amendment is unnecessary.

Amendment 281, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, is about local authority resources. The measures in the Bill are designed to make the existing framework easier to use for enforcement officers. Where we are introducing new powers such as enforcement warning notices, their use is discretionary. As such, I do not think these measures will create significant additional burdens or resource pressures for local planning authorities.

However, we recognise that many local planning authorities already face capacity and capability challenges and we are taking steps to address this issue. We are currently consulting on proposals to increase planning application fees. In the enforcement context, this includes a proposal to double the fee for retrospective applications, in recognition that they often create additional work for officers over and above what is required for a regular application. To ensure that local planning authorities are well equipped and supported to deliver their existing requirements as well as the changes set out in the Bill, we have already started to work alongside the sector to design targeted interventions to support the development of critical skills and to build capacity across local planning authorities. With these reassurances, I hope the noble Baroness will agree that Amendment 281 is unnecessary.

I turn to Amendment 281A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. The level of fine for failure to comply with a breach of condition notice is currently level 4 on the standard scale—a maximum of £2,500. The purpose of Clause 112 is to make fines for this offence unlimited, bringing them into line with the levels of fine for other planning enforcement offences. Amendment 281A would introduce a new sentencing requirement for this offence which would not apply to sentencing for other planning enforcement offences. It would not be reasonable to create a more punitive sentencing regime for the offence of non-compliance with a breach of condition notice than for other planning enforcement offences.

This amendment would also cut across the national approach to sentencing set out in the Sentencing Code which courts refer to when sentencing offenders. It is for the courts to determine the appropriate level of fine for an offence, taking into account its seriousness and the financial circumstances of the offender, including for this offence. Therefore, while I appreciate the sentiment behind this amendment, I feel that it is not appropriate for those reasons.

Amendment 281B, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, would ensure that relief from enforcement action under Clause 113 cannot be granted for any planning conditions relating to the type or volume of affordable housing. While I appreciate her concern about the power being used to restrict conditions about affordable housing, I reassure her that this is not the intention. Clause 113 has been brought forward to provide a statutory route to provide relief in future from planning conditions that unnecessarily impede economic activities during periods of disruption and uncertainty. This is in response to the experience during the height of the Covid pandemic to enable key business sectors to respond and recover from its impacts where we discouraged enforcement through policy.

Here, we focused exclusively on conditions related to the operative use of land or premises, such as construction working hours or delivery times. We would expect these types of conditions to provide relief from enforcement action in future. Conditions related to affordable housing were not in scope. More importantly, affordable housing provision is primarily secured through Section 106 planning obligations, rather than by condition. The concern that affordable housing provision could be affected by the use of this power is therefore misplaced. It does not affect Section 106 agreements.

Amendment 281C, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, seeks to limit the use of the power under Clause 113 to periods of emergency or serious disruption. I recognise that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended that this power should be limited to periods of emergency or serious disruption. We are carefully considering its recommendations and will respond to the committee before Report. However, I reassure the noble and learned Lord that I believe the committee has made some valid points on the scope of the power. It is intended to be used in emergencies and periods of disruption, and it will not be used lightly. We recognise that planning conditions are an important way of making development acceptable to communities and we want them to continue to be used.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Earl Howe Excerpts
Moved by
281CA: Clause 115, page 148, line 30, at end insert—
“(iii) for “arising in” substitute “in respect of”;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment inserting a new paragraph (ab) at the end of line 30 of Clause 115 in the minister’s name.
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 281CB to 281CE. These amendments are aimed at creating greater opportunities for those people who want to build their own home by ensuring that local authorities make sufficient provision for self- and custom-build sites in their areas.

The Government believe that self- and custom-build housing can play a crucial role as part of a wider package of measures to boost home ownership and diversify the housing market, as well as helping to deliver the homes that people want. Self and custom build improve the design and quality of homes as they are built by the people who will live in them.

We are aware that, under the current legislation, some development permissions that are not necessarily for self- and custom-build housing are being counted towards a local planning authority’s statutory duty. This has meant there is an incomplete and inaccurate picture of self and custom build at a local and national level, which can distort the market and have wider impacts on small- and medium-sized enterprises and developers.

In the other place, the Government introduced Clause 115 to ensure that a development permission will count in meeting the duty only if it is actually for self-or custom-build housing. The Government have brought these additional amendments forward to further tighten up the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 to ensure that the intended policy aim of the original legislation is being met in practice.

Amendment 281CB ensures that only land made available explicitly for self-build and custom housebuilding qualifies towards the statutory duty to grant planning permission et cetera and meets demand for self and custom build. We have tabled the amendments to give the power to the Secretary of State to define in regulations the descriptions of types of development permissions that will count towards meeting this duty. This will ensure that only development permissions that are intended to be built out as self or custom build will be counted. The regulations are likely to require any permissions granted for self and custom build to be characterised by a condition or planning obligation making that requirement explicit. Amendment 281CE specifies that any regulations made under this new power will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

Amendment 281CC ensures that any demand that a relevant authority has accrued for self and custom build through its self and custom build register that has not been discharged within the three-year compliance period will not dissipate after this time, but will roll over and remain part of the demand for the authority to meet under Section 2A of the 2015 Act. Amendments 281CA and 281CD are consequential, minor and technical amendments that amend the 2015 Act to ensure that Amendment 281CC works in practice. Overall, the amendments proposed ensure that the 2015 Act works as intended, without ambiguity.

These amendments, accompanied by our other interventions, including the launch of the Help to Build equity loan scheme and the Government’s response to Richard Bacon MP’s independent review into scaling up of self-build and custom housebuilding, will help to mainstream the self- and custom-build sector. This will allow more people to build their own home, help support SMEs and boost housebuilding. I therefore hope that noble Lords will support these amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to support this group of government amendments aimed at increasing the number of homes built or commissioned by their future occupiers. I had the pleasure of piloting the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 through your Lordships’ House. It started as a Private Member’s Bill from Richard Bacon MP, who has tirelessly—I would say relentlessly—pursued his campaign to get the sector to scale up. Most recently, he has produced an independent review to boost the building of self-commissioned new homes across all tenures, and these amendments flow from the Bacon review to which the Minister referred.

In countries as diverse as Germany and New Zealand, much of the new housebuilding is done in partnership with its future occupiers who, if not actually building the homes, are specifying the form they take and working with an SME builder to meet individual requirements. The result in other countries is that homes are more varied, personalised, affordable and energy efficient. These amendments attempt to give this still fledgling sector further impetus by helping self-builders and custom housebuilders to get their hands on the land on which to build, rather than leaving the volume housebuilders to gobble it all up. The sector would be an important beneficiary of my earlier amendment on diversification on larger sites, but a shift to that Letwin-inspired development model is not going to happen immediately. Bolstering the existing means to get local authorities allocating land for self-build and custom housebuilding is eminently sensible. I congratulate Richard Bacon on his continuing tenacity, the Right to Build Task Force on getting the Government to take forward these amendments and the Government on accepting them.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for introducing these government amendments. We have no problem at all with them. They seem fairly straightforward in what they want to achieve, but I would like to make the point that this is going to help provide only a small number of homes. I wonder what estimate the Government have made of the number of homes this will provide and what the demand is for this sort of housing. It would be quite interesting.

We are concerned about the number of houses being built, full stop, particularly since the Government abandoned their mandatory housing target. We feel that this Bill should be used to help the Government to concentrate on providing sufficient quality housing that includes both affordable-to-buy and social housing. Perhaps the Government could then bring forward an amendment on properly defining “affordable housing”; that would be a very useful amendment to see going forward.

As I said, I have absolutely no problem with this; I am quite happy to support the government amendments. However, we feel that the Government need to balance their interest in progressing this with their progress in meeting their stated target of 300,000 new homes.