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Amendments made: 256, page 168, line 38, leave out paragraph (f).
Amendment 257, page 169, line 2, leave out paragraph (j).
Amendment 258, page 169, line 2, at end insert—
‘(ja) section [Applications for planning permission: local finance considerations],’.
Amendment 259, page 169, line 4, leave out paragraph (l).
Amendment 260, page 169, line 6, after ‘7,’, insert ‘except section168(3)(e) and (f) and (4A),’.
Amendment 261, page 169, line 17, leave out from ‘it’ to end of line 18 and insert ‘is brought into force by subsection (4)(f) and (fa),’.
Amendment 262, page 169, line 21, at end insert—
‘(3A) The following provisions come into force on such day as the Welsh Ministers may by order appoint—
(a) section8(1) so far as it inserts—
(i) new sections 5A and 5B so far as relating to fire and rescue authorities in Wales,
(ii) new sections 5C and 5CA so far as relating to power of the Welsh Ministers to make orders, and
(iii) new sections 5E to 5K,
(b) section8(2) so far as relating to fire and rescue authorities in Wales,
(c) section8(2A), (4A) and (4B)(a) and (c),
(d) section8(4B)(b) so far as it inserts new section 62(1A)(a) and (d),
(e) section8(4B)(b) so far as it inserts new section 62(1A)(b) so far as relating to power of the Welsh Ministers to make orders,
(f) section9(1) to (3) and (4) so far as relating to fire and rescue authorities in Wales,
(h) the following so far as relating to fire and rescue authorities in Wales—
(i) in Part 1A of Schedule24, the entries for sections 5 and 19 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, and
(ii) section203 so far as relating to those entries, and
(i) in Part 1A of Schedule24, the entry for section 62(3) of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, and section203 so far as relating to that entry.’.
Amendment 263, page 169, line 30, at end insert—
‘(ea) section [Provision of advice and assistance in relation to community right to challenge],’.
Amendment 264, page 169, line 32, at end insert—
‘(fa) sections [Provision of advice and assistance in relation to land of community value in England] and [Provision of advice and assistance in relation to land of community value in Wales],’.
Amendment 265, page 169, line 42, at end insert—
‘(ma) section [Tax] and Schedule [Transfers and transfer schemes: tax provisions] so far as they confer power on the Treasury to make regulations or orders,’.
Amendment 266, page 169, line 43, after ‘sections’, insert ‘[Pre-commencement consultation],’.
Amendment 267, page 169, line 46, leave out ‘or (3)’ and insert ‘, (3) or (3A)’.
Amendment 268, page 170, line 12, leave out ‘section 65’ and insert
‘sections 65 and [Provision of advice and assistance in relation to land of community value in Wales], and Chapter 4 of Part 4 so far as it confers power on the Welsh Ministers to make regulations or orders,’.—
Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I shall keep my remarks brief because many hon. Members are anxious to attend the funeral of our late colleague, David Cairns. It is appropriate that everyone who can attend that funeral does so with the good will of the House.
Let me begin by thanking Members who have taken part in the scrutiny of the Bill on Second Reading, in our 24 Committee sittings and during the past two days on Report. The level of interest in the Bill across the House and during the 80 hours of scrutiny that it has received so far is testament to its importance and significance in the future of our national life. As well as paying tribute to members of the Committee, who laboured long in the Committee Room upstairs, I thank in particular my ministerial colleagues for all their hard work in preparing and speaking to the Bill, as well as the Whips of both parties who kept us in order and made sure that we considered every clause without needing to curtail our deliberations. I thank my parliamentary private secretary, John Howell, whose seminal paper, “Open Source Planning”, was the source of inspiration for many of the policies in the Bill. I pay tribute to all my officials and to Officers of the House who have worked hard on what has been a very long and detailed Bill to get us to the state we are in today. I pay tribute to all the efforts that went into that.
I am sure that I speak for everyone who served on the Committee when I pay tribute to Hugh Bayley and my hon. Friend Mr Amess, who chaired the Committee sittings with aplomb and expertise, thereby making for very good-humoured and good-tempered scrutiny. I think that I speak for every member of the Committee when I say that we have enjoyed scrutinising the Bill in Committee and in the House. It is fair to say that there was never a dull moment. Jack Dromey, sadly, is not in his place—perhaps he has gone ahead of us to the funeral I mentioned—[ Interruption. ] He has gone to the Dog and Duck, it is said; I know that is a favourite place of his. He treated the Committee to a tour of British history from the Magna Carta to the Chartists. We enjoyed that and were grateful for his contribution.
Mr Raynsford offered some historical perspectives of his own, some of which were drawn from his experience of introducing the measures we then went on to repeal. The fact that he mostly kept his composure during that time, I think we acknowledged. He had a flair for simile, we noted, comparing Ministers and the Secretary of State to everyone from Draco to Henry VIII to Dr Pangloss and everyone in between. A phrase that might have gained his approval is one that we were not able to offer as frequently as he would have wished—“I agree with Nick.” Perhaps, there will be other opportunities for that.
I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington is now back in his place.
In Committee, we had contributions of passion and deep experience of local government and community leadership from both sides of the Committee. It would be invidious for me to single out individual members, but the representation on the Committee of people with long experience of local government and civic and community leadership marked the Committee out as having been selected particularly appropriately and well. The Chamber tends to produce more partisanship than is often the case in Committee or below the surface. Of course we have had our disagreements during the past two years, but I do feel that we were able to make substantial progress with the Bill in Committee. It is a landmark Bill.
Let me continue in that spirit of partisanship. The Welsh branch of the Minister’s party had a manifesto commitment in the recent National Assembly elections to devolve planning power over energy stations up to 100 MW—up from the current 50 MW level. Will he include that pledge, which was made to the people of Wales only last month, at this late stage of the Bill?
We have a national system for consenting to major infrastructure projects. I have had meetings with Welsh Assembly Ministers on that and no doubt we will have meetings following the election of the new Assembly. I am very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and Ministers from the Welsh Assembly Government to discuss that point.
As Members know, the main features of the Bill are to establish a general power of competence for local government, to increase opportunities for members of the public to participate directly in local democracy, especially via referendums, to vest in communities new rights to challenge the way in which services are provided and to own assets of importance to their communities, to reform the planning system to remove the regional tier, to permit neighbourhood planning and to establish a new duty to co-operate at the strategic level. We have clarified the functioning of local democracy in London with a degree of consent, as was pointed out earlier today, and we have introduced new flexibilities into the housing system so as to house people more reliably.
At the beginning of our deliberations, on Second Reading and in Committee, I gave a commitment to respond positively to constructive debate and I hope that the House believes I have done so. An hon. Member was kind enough to mention yesterday that I have taken a listening approach, and I expect that to continue when the Bill goes to another place. I have not regarded my task as being simply to carry the Bill through Committee unamended and without influence from the House, and that continues to be my view as it progresses through Parliament.
Thanks to our proceedings in Committee and in the past couple of days we have introduced safeguards over the use of the general power of competence and we have strengthened the duty to co-operate. We have substantially improved the provisions on neighbourhood planning to make them more open and more representative and allow them to cross neighbourhood boundaries. Those are some examples of the progress that we have been able to make.
In a centralised system it is necessary, however paradoxical it may seem, for the centre to lead on localist reform. It does not happen without a positive programme, but the centre should do so in a spirit of co-operation. I will disclose to the shadow Chancellor, who I know is fond of his dividing lines, that the discussions that I have had with the Opposition Front-Bench team have been very constructive. Even where we have not been able to agree totally, we have been able to reach a better understanding of each other’s position and to make improvements as a result.
I had hoped that that might be reflected in both sides being able to support the Bill tonight. We will see in a few minutes, but I am led to believe that that might not be the case, and I regret that. Although we may disagree on some of the particular measures to implement the vision of localism, I think localism is a cause whose time has come. It attracts support from across the political divide. What unites us in this place on localism is greater than our points of difference, which the House of Lords will no doubt continue to pursue.
I will not, because I made a commitment that Members would be free to go to our late colleague’s funeral.
It is a shame that, although the Opposition say they support localism, they have hit upon an ingenious solution to oppose it in practice, which is to seize on any instance in which central Government intervene to pass down power and to focus on that intervention, rather than on the transfer of power which is its purpose. But the blindingly obvious fact is that the Bill is overwhelmingly decentralising. It favours the local over the central. Like the movement en masse on a Thursday afternoon of Members from this place to their constituencies, so the effect of the Bill is to see power leave Westminster and go where it is better vested, in local communities, and to give them their head.
This is a significant Bill. I hope we will make continued progress in the House of Lords. I believe that we will look back in 10, 20 or 50 years and see today as a turning point. The tide of centralisation has turned, not just because of the Government’s decentralising measures, but because communities across the country are demanding change. That change is already under way. The Bill will speed up the process and establish it in law. For its part in that change, I commend the Bill to the House.
We have had more than 70 hours of debate and evidence during the Commons stage of the Bill, but I say to Ministers and Government business managers that to have only 90 minutes or so on Report to discuss groups containing 70 new clauses and amendments, as we did yesterday, was not satisfactory.
Philip Davies said that the Government had allowed a shameful amount of time for the debate, and for once we agree with him.
I, too, thank all members of the Committee for their work on the Bill, and particularly Opposition members who, I think we agree, carry a heavier work load. I thank my right hon. Friend Mr Raynsford, and my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds). I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) for their excellent work and for leading the debates on our amendments.
I should mention the staff of our shadow ministerial team who worked long hours on speaking notes. Our work was supported immensely by the wise counsel of Sarah Davies and her team in the Public Bill Office. I join in the thanks to our two able Committee Chairs, my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley and Mr Amess.
Sadly, we still have concerns about and objections to a number of the Bill’s proposals. We object most strongly to the 142 extra powers that the Secretary of State wants to take to himself, the most toxic of those being the Henry VIII powers in part 5 which we discussed yesterday. Our amendment 37 proposed limits to those powers to amend, repeal, revoke or disapply any statutory provision.
Ministers still do not understand the alarm and consternation they have caused by introducing these powers and the way they are conducting the review of the statutory duties of councils. I hope they will reflect on the debate and do more in the Bill’s later stages to limit those excessive powers. We disagree profoundly with the proposal to impose shadow mayors on 12 of our largest cities, a proposal that Ministers spent months denying they intended to introduce. It enjoys almost unanimous opposition from political leaders in the cities affected, such as Bradford and Leeds. The Institute of Local Government Studies at the university of Birmingham stated in a recent article:
“It takes quite a determined political masochist to design a policy that unites in opposition to it 100% of those most immediately affected, regardless of party. Yet Communities Secretary Eric Pickles would seem to have pulled it off with his Localism Bill’s elected mayoral package”.
I strongly urge Ministers to look again at their proposal to impose shadow mayors when the Bill goes to the other place.
On pay transparency, we welcome Ministers indicating that they will look at expanding their proposals to include low pay, but they have not gone far enough. Fairness and transparency must be applied to the private sector wherever staff are being paid from the public purse. Ministers can be assured, however, that our opposition on a number of other issues not tested in Divisions is as implacable now as it was in Committee.
We reject the Government’s proposal to levy EU fines on local councils, which we think will prove unworkable and hope will be thrown out when the Bill is debated in the other place. Ministers have talked about reducing burdens on local councils, but they are creating new duties and financial responsibilities at a time when councils are struggling with the challenge of dealing with the Government’s swingeing, front-loaded cuts. Most importantly, we still have serious concerns and objections to their proposals on planning and on homelessness and social housing tenure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington said, the Government have not moved far enough on the duty to co-operate. Worse than that, the additional changes to planning announced in the Budget and Government new clause 15 have created, as my hon. Friend suggested yesterday,
“confusion, chaos and nothing short of a car crash.”—[Hansard, 17 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 276.]
I hope that it is clear to Ministers after yesterday’s debate that there are grave concerns about Government new clause 15, which allows financial matters to be a material consideration in planning applications. This effectively means that planning decisions could be for sale. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said, the new clause poses a threat to the integrity of the planning system. The national planning policy framework should have been made available so that it could be part of our consideration. The Minister says that it will be launched for consultation later, but that is not good enough in the context of a Bill that makes such radical changes to the planning system.
The Opposition want to give communities a say over the future of their high streets. I hope that our new clause that proposes bringing in a retail diversity scheme will find favour in the other place after Government Members rejected it yesterday.
Ministers did not listen to our concerns or objections on their proposals on homelessness and tenure reform in social housing, and there was no consensus on these proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View made it clear that there is much in the Bill’s housing proposals with which we cannot agree, from the Government’s plans to weaken the homelessness duty to their plans to remove security of tenure, which would act as a brake on aspiration and a barrier to employment.
On security of tenure, the Bill will cause instability and insecurity for tenants. We are concerned about the Government taking away the rights of existing tenants. Their proposals to put homeless people straight into the private rented sector could lead to a cycle of evictions and further homelessness. We hope that scrutiny of the Bill in the other place will achieve important changes, including an accreditation scheme for the private rented sector.
In more than 70 hours of debate, we have worked hard to improve the Bill, but much more needs to be changed and revised. A Bill should not be rushed on to the statute book when it was not ready to start with, when it was not subject to adequate consultation and when Ministers have rejected many sensible amendments put forward during this and earlier debates. Therefore, we will vote against the Bill, because we want to send the message that much more change and improvement is needed.
I wish to speak very briefly on behalf of my constituency of South Northamptonshire. I and my constituents thoroughly welcome the Bill, because at last it gives people the chance to allow communities to determine the fate of their own environment. For so long, Northamptonshire has been subject to a regional spatial strategy that has dumped housing all around its green spaces, and people have not been able to have a real say over what happens.
We have the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation, which was given planning powers to see through those developments, yet we have not had the section 106 money, and we do not have the infrastructure, roads or even school places and GP surgeries to cope with the amount of centrally determined housing that has been foisted on Northamptonshire.
On behalf of my constituents, I thoroughly welcome the Bill, but some questions remain, particularly in my area, about how we get from where we are today to where we want to be. Surely bodies such as the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation and the West Northamptonshire joint strategic planning committee, both of which the previous Government foisted on us, have to be removed in a post-Localism Bill world. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will listen to that very carefully.
Finally, on wind farms, we are desperately keen to see local people able to influence the siting and number of them in their area.
Before I move on to my remarks about the Bill, I should like to join colleagues from all parts of the House in paying tribute to David Cairns, the former Member for Inverclyde. I understand that Opposition Members want to finish in order to attend his funeral, and that is perfectly understandable, so I will be as brief as I can.
Overall, this is a landmark Bill that should be welcomed on a cross-party basis. Taking Whitehall out of the town hall has been a key feature of the double devolution that David Miliband has spoken and written about. It will help enable the big society, the vision of our country described best by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and it is a huge step in the right direction of the community politics that Liberals and Liberal Democrats have articulated for many a year.
The Bill frees councils, enables councillors and empowers local communities. For the first time, councils get the power of general competence: the ability to act in any area where they think that that is in the best interest of their local communities. They get extra financial freedoms, and the housing revenue account, long hated by councils and councillors, is being reformed. We are seeing increased rights and responsibilities for councillors, and the end of the ridiculous notion that having an opinion on a local issue before going into a meeting to talk about it will predetermine how they act. We are seeing the right of communities to buy assets, which might have been lost to those communities without this Bill. We are seeing local organisations have the right to challenge badly performing local authorities for contracts, and through the ability to hold referendums we are seeing additional democratic checks placed in our community.
For 13 years we have seen that increasing centralisation—an increasing reliance on a top-down approach to our communities—does not work. We know that centralised systems cannot display initiative or difference, because they are too big to fail. By dispersing power throughout the country, we are going to have a plethora of different approaches to service delivery, reflecting the particular needs of local communities, and that will be healthy for the communities concerned and for the country as a whole.
Briefly, I should like to turn to my concern, which we were not able to debate yesterday, about the asymmetry of the planning process. Colleagues will be aware that I tabled new clause 4, which would have introduced a limited community right of appeal. I am quite clear, however, that the other 18 Members who signed that new clause are keen to see work proceed to ensure that developers no longer have the whip hand on planning applications, and I know that the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, gave assurances on plans to address that concern in the national planning policy framework. It was, after all, a manifesto commitment of both coalition partners.
I pay tribute to my fellow members of the Bill Committee. It seemed like a marathon session over many months, and indeed it was. I pay tribute to the Clerks who supported us in our deliberations, and to the officials, who are already making an early exit from their Box. I note that we managed to keep them awake for the past two days. I hope that our noble colleagues at the other end of the building are equally able to keep them on their toes. I also pay tribute to Hugh Bayley and my hon. Friend Mr Amess, who so ably chaired our discussions, which were broadly non-partisan—although we saw a little bit of opportunistic opposition from Labour Front Benchers this evening.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On Friday, a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written statement said that there would no ban on exotic animals in circuses, as had been expected. On Monday and Tuesday, I sought to ask an urgent question on that, and made a point of order on Monday. It transpires that there is doubt as to the accuracy of Friday’s statement. Is it possible for a Minister to come to the House to clarify that statement, because it is almost certainly wrong?
No Minister has notified me that they wish to make a statement on this matter, or indeed on any other matter, but I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard exactly what the hon. Gentleman says.