Housing and Regeneration Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:14 pm on 7th July 2008.

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Schedule 1 [The Homes and Communities Agency]:

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendment No. 1:

Schedule 1, page 151, line 39, at end insert "by way of grant.

(2) Such payments may be made on such terms and conditions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate."

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this first group looks like a formidably long list of amendments but, in speaking to them, I hope to make logical sense of them all. I shall begin with Amendments Nos. 1 and 39, which are technical.

In the event that the Secretary of State makes grant payments, under Amendment No. 1, or loans, under Amendment No. 39, to the Homes and Communities Agency, those grant payments or loans will be on such terms and conditions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate. The terms and conditions are a matter for the Secretary of State and will reflect the overall strategic framework for the HCA. Setting out the detail in legislation would be inappropriate and would remove flexibility for the future and for changing circumstances.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 67 are, again, highly technical. The first part of Amendment No. 3 to paragraph 10 of Schedule 1 allows a committee of the HCA to delegate any function conferred on it to any of its sub-committees or to any staff of the HCA. This allows the HCA flexibility in delegating to its committees. The second part of the amendment to paragraph 10 works with the separate amendment to Clause 46 to ensure that the provisions in the Bill which enable the HCA to delegate its functions and appoint agents to exercise its functions on its behalf work correctly together. To explain further, the main aim of new subsection (3) proposed in Amendment No. 3 is to ensure that the power of the HCA to delegate its functions in paragraph 10 of Schedule 1 works with the power of the HCA to appoint agents to exercise functions on its behalf.

Noble Lords will appreciate that, as a statutory body, the HCA has both implied and certain specific powers to appoint agents; for example, under Clause 45. Those permit the agency, for example, to appoint agents for day-to-day activities, such as appointing a contractor to act as agent in the delivery of mail, in relation to selling land or in office administration. In these cases, there is no need for specific statutory authority for those implied powers. However, a specific statutory power to appoint an agent is given to the HCA in Clause 45, where it is permitted to appoint an urban development corporation to act as agent in relation to certain specified functions. Proposed new subsection (3) of the amendment to paragraph 10 of Schedule 1 ensures that Clause 45 is correctly interpreted so as not impliedly to limit the HCA's ability to appoint agents for its day-to-day functions.

Amendment No. 67 to Clause 46 is also intended to ensure that no doubt is cast in relation to the extent of the HCA's implied powers, and so it is proposed that subsections (3) and (4) are deleted. Basically, these technical amendments provide clarity on how the HCA's delegation and agency powers will work.

Amendments Nos. 40, 41, 42, 65, 66, 70, 71, 72 and 86 are, again, technical and relate to the relationship between the HCA and its subsidiaries.

The principle of that relationship is as set out in Clause 44 as amended. We want to ensure that the HCA's subsidiaries work within the same constraints as the HCA itself, to make certain that subsidiaries cannot do what the HCA cannot do and to ensure that the HCA cannot use its subsidiaries to circumvent any restrictions placed on it in statute. It is an unlikely scenario but one that we consider important for the Bill to cover. It is subject to an important qualification. To award some flexibility to subsidiaries, Amendment No. 40 provides that they can gain the consent of the Secretary of State to undertake activities that the HCA is precluded from undertaking. In the event that a subsidiary can illustrate that it has particular need or reason to undertake something the HCA might be prevented from doing in statute, it can do so, but only with the consent of the Secretary of State. We do not at present envisage any particular activities that would fall within this category but we think that it is appropriate to allow for future flexibility. For example, if the subsidiary wished to charge for activities which the HCA was not permitted to charge for, it would require the consent of the Secretary of State.

Amendments Nos. 40 and 42 ensure that when the HCA is subject to borrowing limits and any surplus funds direction, the borrowing limits and surplus funds of any subsidiaries are also taken into consideration. Amendment No. 40 provides that references to the HCA's borrowing limit include any borrowings of its subsidiaries, which will prevent the HCA circumventing the financial limits imposed on it in Clause 26 through the use of subsidiaries. Equally, in circumstances where the Secretary of State is considering whether to give a direction as to the repayment of the surplus funds, Amendment No. 42 makes sure that any surplus funds being considered include those of all HCA subsidiaries.

Amendments Nos. 70 to 72 ensure that third parties dealing with subsidiaries of the HCA are extended the same protection as they would if they were dealing with the HCA itself, under Clause 56, on the validity of transactions. This means that all the protections afforded to third parties entering into a transaction with the HCA also apply to transactions with the HCA's subsidiaries. Amendment No. 86 adds the definition set out in Clause 25(5) to the list of definitions at the end of Part 1.

To conclude on this group, these amendments ensure that subsidiaries of the HCA cannot do what the HCA cannot do and that the HCA cannot use them to circumvent any restrictions placed on it in statute, while allowing for some appropriately circumscribed flexibility through the consent of the Secretary of State.

I turn to the much shorter Amendment No. 69—I seem to have lost this amendment, so I shall move on to Amendments Nos. 73, 76 to 79, 199 and 201. These are technical or clarifying amendments to existing legislation to ensure that it will accurately reflect the world should this Bill be granted Royal Assent. I do not intend to take your Lordships through each of them line by line, but I shall highlight those of particular interest.

Amendments Nos. 76, 77 and 78 and the second part of Amendment No. 79 relate to taxation legislation. The intention behind all tax-related consequential amendments is to ensure that the current tax position will be maintained once the new bodies come into being. The amendments do not impose new burdens or lift old ones; they simply reflect the changes in structure that this Bill will bring about. The first part of Amendment No. 79 relates to planning legislation. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 is clarified to provide that, where plan-making functions are conferred upon the HCA, these may not be conferred concurrently with the existing local planning authority. This amendment was withdrawn in Committee in response to a request from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who was concerned that passing it then might prejudice consideration of Clauses 13 and 14. They have now been discussed, and I bring the amendment back unchanged.

Amendments Nos. 73 and 75 refer to issues surrounding Crown land. They alter the scope of Crown exemption, reducing it in respect of the Welsh Ministers acting in the capacity of the residuary body for new towns in Wales. So they are tidying up amendments, but still very important.

I have now found my brief on Amendment No. 69. It is a simple amendment, which adds the regional development agencies to the list of bodies in Clause 53(1)(a). This means that the Secretary of State will be able to make a scheme for the transfer to the HCA of property, rights and liabilities from the RDAs to the HCA. In particular, the clause will allow for the transfer of the assets and liabilities of the Academy for Sustainable Communities from its host organisation, the Yorkshire and Humber Development Agency, to the HCA.

Amendments Nos. 82 and 84 are technical; they are intended to ensure that the HCA does not inadvertently act outside its powers while trying to comply with its duties. To clarify, where the HCA has statutory duties, it must carry them out whether or not they conflict with its objects. For example, the duty to hand over surplus funds to the Secretary of State under Clause 28(2) may not fit easily with the HCA's objects, but it has to pay over the money regardless.

In this circumstance, the HCA is handing over surplus funds because the Secretary of State has directed it to do so and not, strictly speaking, for the purposes of its objects or for purposes incidental to them, as in Clause 4(2). If Clause 4(2) was applied to the duty imposed on the HCA by Clause 28(2), it would put the agency in an impossible position. Similarly, that duty might well cut across Clause 3, so falsifying Clause 4(5). Our amendment effectively confines Clause 4 to "pure" powers, as opposed to powers contained in duties. Amendment No. 84 adds the definition set out in Clause 59(2) to the list of definitions.

Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 concern the housing ombudsman. Clause 124 ensures that registered providers are required to be members of the housing ombudsman scheme in future, as registered social landlords are at present. Noble Lords will know how well the ombudsman does his job, which is to deal with individual complaints from housing association tenants when they cannot be resolved by the landlord.

At present, registered social landlords who cease to be registered are required to remain as members of the ombudsman scheme. The amendment ensures that the requirement to maintain membership of the ombudsman scheme will extend to bodies that have been de-registered by the regulator only if those bodies continue to own or manage publicly funded dwellings. If they cease to own or manage such properties, we do not think there is a need for them to be required to remain part of an ombudsman scheme.

Amendments Nos. 154 to 157 are consequential to tax legislation. They do not change policy; they simply ensure that the status quo is preserved in the new system. In particular, they ensure that tax benefits currently available to RSLs continue to be available in future to their successors—that is to say, non-profit providers of registered social housing. The amendments are technical and consequential but essential to ensure a smooth transition to the new system.

Amendments Nos. 151 and 153 simply ensure consistency through the Bill by adding a definition of a local housing authority. Previous drafts of the Bill had very few references to local housing authorities; hence the reference in Clause 114 included its own definition. We are now adding to the regulator certain requirements to consult representatives of local housing authorities, and it therefore seems sensible to include a single definition covering all the references.

I think the two final sub-groups will be particularly interesting to noble Lords—even more interesting than the ones I have just spoken to. I think that Members on both sides of the House will welcome them.

I have tabled Amendment Nos. 11 and 14 in response to an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in Committee. He argued that commons are special places with a crucial role to play in the life of communities. He is quite right. He argued that they should be subject to special protection and that their role in community life should be cherished. He was quite right about that too.

It is against that background that a potential threat to the current protection for commons was identified where that land is acquired by agreement by the HCA. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not in his place for me to pay tribute to his vigilance and forensic skill in that respect. However, before addressing that issue, let me be clear that in cases where the agency compulsorily acquires any land forming part of an allotment, open space or common, the protection found in the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 will apply. This requires that, where a compulsory purchase of this land occurs, it must be subject to special parliamentary procedure, including a public inquiry and being brought before Parliament, unless certain exceptions apply. Commons are therefore subject to the highest form of protection in respect of acquisition by a compulsory purchase.

Following the undertaking of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, to review the position, however, it has become clear that where the HCA acquired common land by agreement, there was a risk that the protection afforded to this land by the Commons Act 2006 could be overridden. The amendments ensure that the protections in that Act apply to the HCA. The first amendment is slightly technical. The definition of common land given in Clause 9(7) replicates the definition in the Acquisition of Land Act 1981. However, by referring to that Act directly in the Bill we can ensure that, if the 1981 definition is amended in future under powers in the Commons Act, the amended definition will apply equally to this legislation.

More substantially, we have removed Part 4 of Schedule 3. This brought forward the existing powers of the Urban Regeneration Agency and allowed the HCA, despite any other legislation, to use a common, open space or allotment in any way subject only to planning permission. Ordinarily, a developer wishing to use common land for a large-scale development without resort to powers of compulsory purchase will require the consent of the Secretary of State under Section 16 of the Commons Act 2006. Part 4 of Schedule 3 would have allowed the HCA to override that requirement. However, I assure noble Lords that it was never our intention that the HCA should be placed in a position superior to other developers in relation to common land, and we are happy to ensure that the HCA is subject to the same controls as any other developer should it want to develop common land acquired by agreement.

Finally, Amendments Nos. 98 and 99 in this group are on a slightly different subject. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, raised this matter in Grand Committee, but unfortunately we could not debate it then. He is not in his place, but I should say that we were grateful to him for tabling his amendments in Grand Committee because they were originally proposed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which he is a member. Both his amendments and mine are to Clause 110, which relates to information disclosure.

Briefly, Clause 110(1) provides that a public authority may disclose information to the regulator for a purpose connected with the regulator's functions. Subsection (2) provides a reciprocal disclosure power to the regulator, but stipulates that such a disclosure can be for a purpose connected with either the regulator's functions or the receiving public authority's functions. The Joint Committee is concerned that the information-sharing gateway provided by Clause 110 is too broad and might be incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Joint Committee recommended that the current test—that information is for a purpose connected with the regulator's functions or the public authority's functions—should be replaced with a necessity test that information may be shared only when it is necessary to perform those functions.

We do not share the Joint Committee's concerns about the ECHR compatibility of Clause 110. In particular, it is important that we do not see the clause in isolation. Subsection (5) makes it clear that the powers provided by the clause are subject to any express restrictions on disclosure imposed by other enactments. Those enactments include the Data Protection Act, which already provides significant protections, and the Human Rights Act, to which the regulator, as a public authority, will be subject.

Notwithstanding that, it is right to address the Joint Committee's concerns, which is the intention behind the amendments. If the House agrees, the amendments will ensure that a public authority may disclose information to the regulator only if the public authority thinks that the disclosure is necessary for a purpose connected with the regulator's functions, and that the regulator may disclose information to a public authority only if the regulator thinks that the disclosure is necessary for a purpose connected with the regulator's functions or with the public authority's functions. The amendments will impose a necessity test on the sharing of information between the regulator and other public authorities, but this is consistent with the Joint Committee's recommendations.

These government amendments are slightly different from the amendments that were recommended by the Joint Committee and which the noble Earl tabled previously. His amendments were rather more straightforward than mine. They would merely have inserted "which is necessary" into subsections (1) and (2). My amendments specify that the applicable test is whether the discloser of the information thinks that it is necessary. This extra detail is because we felt that the Bill should be specific about whose opinion the necessity test is based on. Unless we specify that, the clause could be open to a wide interpretation. Such ambiguity would be unhelpful to those who will have to operate the clause in practice and to the courts that may one day have to interpret it.

I hope that these amendments, together with the existing safeguards provided by the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act, will reassure noble Lords and the Joint Committee. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government 3:30 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, any new readers would be quite baffled. I must thank the noble Baroness for responding to my noble friends Lord Greaves and Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, who also raised points that are covered in this group of amendments. Before I ask questions on the amendments, I should like to make a general point, which I will not make again despite the considerable number of government amendments still to come. These are technical amendments. Some of them respond to what happened at the previous stage, but most are tabled in order to get the Bill right.

The Bill spent a lot of time in the Commons and we spent nine days on it in Committee. We are now at the penultimate stage. I should like to make absolutely clear that I cast no blame at the door of the noble Baroness, but this possibly consolidates what I have noticed over the years; namely, that in June and July, the Government do not have the resources to deal with this sort of thing in the way that they should. There has always seemed to be a shortage of parliamentary counsel, which, no doubt, has been felt at earlier stages. It is a bit of a poor show that we get all this at this stage. I have said it now, got it off my chest and I will not say it again—well, not today.

Amendment No. 69 refers to regional development agencies. The Minister has given us one example of how the provision could be used. I suspect that that example is why we have the amendment, but it is much wider than the example and I would be grateful if she could tell the House whether the Government have anything else in mind that would require an amendment of this sort. Amendment No. 79 refers to planning. As the noble Baroness said, we were concerned about that at the previous stage. I do not oppose this amendment because, although I very much oppose the Government's planning proposals, which we will come to in the next group, we do not seek to get rid of them entirely.

When I saw Amendment No. 82 I wrote, "Please translate", which the Minister has done. I am also grateful to have had sight of the Minister's speaking notes on these amendments, which have made life a great deal easier. Finally, Amendment No. 89, which would apply to Clause 69, states:

"The Secretary of State may by order make further provision in respect of a function ... (which may, in particular, include provision for the function to cease to be exercisable)".

I would be much happier if the amended clause simply stated that the Secretary of State could order a function to cease to be exercisable. That is what the Minister's note, which was circulated to noble Lords last week, said. However, the amendment is wider and it is not clear whether the further provision referred to is yet another provision, whether it is covered by Clause 69(1), or whether something more is in mind. That is one example of a generality followed by a particularity, and it is the particularity that concerns the Government, but it is cast in a much wider context. Last week, the noble Baroness described me as cynical—inevitably, cynics like me will wonder about the wider intention.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, in accordance with the customs of the House, I remind noble Lords of the declarations of interest I made at Second Reading.

There is not much to say to this group of amendments except a general comment. The noble Baroness is correct to say that the amendments are largely technical. They indicate an increasing tendency to manage by legislation, although I am not sure that this Government are the exclusive progenitor of the practice; we all build on what our predecessors have done. The management of public bodies is more detailed and prescribed, and of course anyone working for such a body can always say, "Ah, but the law says this". One of the side effects, of which this group is a classic example, is that the capacity for initiative is removed from people employed by something such as the Homes and Communities Agency. Increasingly, jobs in the local government sector are prescribed and defined in legislation. No doubt we have played a part in that, but it is a trend that we need to worry about. Jobs in the public service will become increasingly less worth doing and satisfying as the result of fewer opportunities for people to do things that really can help their communities because the law does not permit them and they dare not do anything without that permission.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, what can I say to the noble Baroness except that it is a fair cop? I would have much preferred not to have had to bring back so many technical amendments, but it is extremely important to get a Bill of this size and complexity right. I also address those remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. A great weight of responsibility will rest on the agency with its enormous funding powers and ability to take action, so I am grateful to noble Lords for helping to achieve that accuracy. Where possible I have made my speaking notes available to noble Lords opposite because it is a fair way to proceed when technical amendments are brought forward late. It is quite right and proper that they should form part of our scrutiny.

The noble Baroness put two questions to me. The Bill refers to all regional development agencies, but she has spotted that when we talked about the ASC we were just talking about the transfer from the Yorkshire and Humberside RDA, Yorkshire Forward—the grandfather body, as it were. The need to refer to all RDAs rather than just specify that one is, I understand, to avoid a hybrid Bill procedure and provide flexibility should transfers of property or other assets be required in the future. We have no plans to do that, but wish to ensure the necessary flexibility. I cannot add much to that explanation when we come to government Amendment No. 89. We are advised that flexibility is important here but, similarly, we have no plans to make use of it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 2:

Schedule 1, page 152, line 5, at end insert—

"( ) The HCA shall exercise any powers granted by order made under section 13 and described in section 14, only through the delegation of such powers to a committee; and such committee shall hold all its meetings within the area of the local planning authority in which the land described in the order made under section 13 is situated."

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, this is a smaller but significant group of amendments dealing with the powers which the Government propose should be exercisable by the new Homes and Communities Agency in the area of planning, both in the making of plans and in dealing with planning applications. The group contains amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and a number of amendments from the Minister, on which I shall comment after I have spoken to my amendments.

Amendment No. 2 seeks to provide that the HCA can exercise its powers only through a committee which holds its meetings in the area of the local planning authority in contention. If the HCA is to exercise planning powers, it will rapidly learn the importance of being seen not to be remote. Part of that includes physical and geographical accessibility so that people can get to meetings, hear the arguments and put their own case. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of hearing the arguments. Often people who have argued on one side of a case, even if they are not reconciled having heard the argument, at least have an understanding of why the other argument prevailed. My experience—now out of date—was that this was important for more than just the outcome of planning applications; it was the connection between local people and the local authority, about which many people were concerned.

Amendment No. 74 is a probing amendment and seeks to apply the local government access to meetings and information provisions to the planning activities of the HCA. If it is not correct that these provisions will apply, some of us will think that that shows particularly bad faith. I hope I am going to be told that I need not worry about it and that it is all there somewhere—but I could not find it. The first of the amendments was suggested to me by the Town and Country Planning Association.

Amendment No. 9 is rather different and concerns making assistance available to local planning authorities. In Committee, much was made of the need to provide planning expertise in different situations and the quite correct point that local planning authorities are very short of planners. The amendment would make the HCA a centre of excellence which would be available to local planning authorities. I may have mentioned at the previous stage that something like this was developing in London when I was a Member of the London Assembly—no doubt it is still going on—with the planners engaged by the GLA assisting the London boroughs, where there was less expertise in dealing with large-scale, complex applications.

Amendments Nos.17, 18 and 19 go to the heart of the Government's proposals. In a Bill which, by and large, we on these Benches support, Clauses 13 and 14 are, frankly, offensive. They give the new agency powers that, admittedly, have been there in the background and used once by English Partnerships, the agency chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, but are now centre stage in the Government's proposals for the HCA. Planning is central to local government, and I stress both "local" and "government". The HCA, however desirable its objectives, is not a democratically elected Government. The Minister has done her very best to assure us about how rarely the powers will be used, but the more she does so, the more the argument boils down in my mind to whether they are really needed at all.

The Government keep saying that the powers would be used only in special circumstances. If that is so, I cannot see a justification for a blanket order. My Amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19 would limit the Secretary of State's order-making powers to particular purposes and particular kinds of development. That does not mean only a single purpose or kind of development; I have not narrowed it down as much as that. If the situation that the Government anticipate might have to be dealt with is so special, it must be possible to analyse it—after all, one needs to analyse a problem before offering a solution—as well as to define and articulate it, and to put it in an order designed for the purpose.

Amendments Nos. 193 and 196 would apply the affirmative procedure to these orders, not the negative one. Given the significance of what was proposed at the start of our proceedings, I thought that this must have been an oversight, but it appears not. The Government should justify each order, hence those amendments.

Amendment No. 25, a requirement for a public local inquiry, was put down at much the same time as the Government's amendments were tabled. While I see the merit in building on old legislation that is still around, which could be useful, the Government's amendments cover rather similar ground so I will not speak any longer to that amendment.

Amendment No. 26 would take out the new agency's plan-making powers and leave it with development control powers—that is, powers to deal with planning applications. I find it hard to see why the HCA needs to be able to make plans. We have been told that there may be inconsistencies between plans for adjoining areas where a proposed development straddles a boundary, but the local development frameworks of both the planning authorities concerned, if that is the case, must comply with the regional spatial strategy. Could there be major inconsistencies? It seems unlikely. More to the point, how practicable is this? The local development document process is a long and complex one. Do the Government really envisage the new agency going through what we know local planning authorities have been struggling with since the 2000 Act imposed those provisions on them—provisions that may be rowed back when we see the Planning Bill?

Amendments Nos. 28, 29 and 30 are amendments to Clause 14, which replicate my amendments to Clause 13, and Amendment No. 31 is consequential. Amendment No. 32 is a continuation of the argument; it would leave out paragraph (c) of Clause 14(6), which allows the Government to disapply any enactment in the case of the HCA. It is one thing, if the HCA has these new powers, for the Secretary of State to be able to modify enactments, as he can, or perhaps use synonyms to adjust or tweak them to fit the fact that the HCA, not a local planning authority, will be taking decisions, but in effect to rewrite planning legislation is quite another. Whatever assurances we are given about how this will just make sure that all the powers are in place, that is what Clause 14(6)(c) says. With regard to Amendment No. 33, so does Clause 14(8); that amendment is also consequential.

On the Government's amendments, I again thank the Minister for responding so positively to the amendments of my noble friend Lord Greaves on private streets. Not many of us achieve excising parts of a Bill, certainly not at this stage. I acknowledge what the Government are proposing by way of local involvement; it is very important and I can see that time has been spent designing the provisions. But as the Minister knows, I do not accept the basic proposition that the HCA should have such extensive planning powers.

I have two questions for the Minister on her amendments. Is the statement of local involvement made on the basis that the Planning Bill acknowledges that the 2004 Act has not worked very well and those provisions are being rewritten? Or is it an addition to the statement of community involvement in the 2004 Act, which is still on the statute book? Secondly—and this is a comment rather than a question; this will not come as a surprise to the Minister as we have discussed it privately—the local authority may nominate a member of the committee, and that person may be a member or an officer of the local authority. Members of a planning committee are not there in a representative capacity. Any officer who is pitched into this situation by his local planning authority could not represent it and that, for him, might be a career-defining moment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, Amendments Nos. 4 and 15 in my name are also in this group. I find myself at something of a procedural disadvantage. Under Report stage rules, I have no right to sum up at the end of the debate on this group. That might mean that then I have some difficulty, depending on what the Minister has said. I make that observation now because it also will depend on what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has to say at the end.

The Homes and Communities Agency is not a body to which we object in principle. As the Minister has explained, it is an amalgamation of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. Of course, the nigger in the woodpile, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has already pointed out, is that it still incorporates what I call the hangover of the new towns legislation. If it were not for that, we would have little difficulty with the foundation of this agency. However, the historical hangover of those planning powers in this age of participation and consultation where everyone works together is a considerable anachronism and I do not like it.

Our two amendments were tabled with the express purpose of recognising at the start of the Bill that local planning authorities and local councils already have a major role to play in community development, reconstruction and the provision of social housing. I acknowledge the parts played by housing associations, ALMOs and so forth and acknowledge the funding arrangements that are made. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the difficulties and complexities of the existing planning system and asked a perfectly reasonable question. If the Homes and Communities Agency has planning powers, will it be exempt from the effects of that system, or, more importantly and significantly, if it wishes to redesign the area for which it is given responsibility by the Secretary of State, how detailed will the planning process be that supervises it? If it has to go back to square one, requiring an adjustment of the regional spatial strategy, any planning gains in terms of time or anything else will completely fall by the wayside. We have difficulty with that.

Our approach is to ensure that the Homes and Communities Agency works with local authorities and local planners and takes them on board as part of its committee structure so that local communities have direct involvement. The weakness of the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is that, without the direct involvement of local councils and planners, relationships on the ground may be fraught. The occasional examples of where that has happened in the past have not been encouraging.

I was somewhat interested when the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that the Homes and Communities Agency might become a source of planners for local authorities. I am afraid that I read the market rather the other way round. The Homes and Communities Agency is much more likely to take planners from local authorities than to act as a training ground for them. Of course, one has to acknowledge that pre-existing bodies will already have their own planning departments, but there is an eternal problem over the supply of planners. In my admittedly limited knowledge of planners, it is not that they would go from local authorities to the Homes and Communities Agency or vice versa, but that they would leave that sector altogether—and have done for the past few years—for the private sector. They become planning advisers or consultants and represent commercial interests in all sorts of ways because that is more profitable than working for either the Government or local authorities. Of course that particular pressure may disappear like a puff of dust in the wind. All noble Lords expect the housing market to return eventually, first, to stability and then to development. When that happens, the market for planning consultancy will increase. While I entirely accept that work needs to be done to ensure a greater supply of planners, the idea that the Homes and Communities Agency can lend them to local government is not likely to be realistic.

My two specific amendments require the Homes and Communities Agency to work through the planning system and co-operate with the relevant planning authorities and other agencies. I think that that is perfectly reasonable. The other amendment deals with Clause 13 and says that, following consultations with the local planning authorities and the Homes and Communities Agency, the Secretary of State may make the orders under Clause 13. Both amendments are directed at one specific point: to ensure that local authorities, not only in their planning capacity but, more importantly, in their much wider community capacity are directly involved from the start when there is any question of the Homes and Communities Agency being involved with planning powers.

I regard the retention of that power as an historical anachronism. I rather wish it was not there; I am wholly convinced that it is not necessary. The noble Baroness herself has said that it is intended to be used only in very exceptional circumstances. Given all the complications that we have added to the planning process since these mechanisms were last used, I find it difficult to envisage circumstances in which these powers might actually be used. Be that as it may, it is possible, given what happened at Committee stage, that the Minister will tell me that as a result of her amendments, mine are not necessary. That may well be. If they are not necessary, at least they are doing no harm and there should be no objection to putting them in the Bill. I await the Minister's reply with interest. I think that that is enough for now.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 4:00 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, he used a phrase about a woodpile. If your Lordships' House were happy, I think it would perhaps be helpful if the wording of the phrase were revised.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

I apologise, my Lords; I left my brains behind. I apologise to the House.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, in welcoming my noble friend's amendments, I would like to ask her two questions. Could I first say that I have considerable sympathy with Amendment No. 9, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to create more of a centre of excellence in planning and design skills? I look forward to my noble friend's comments on that proposal. In fact, my question bears on the same point. On my noble friend's Amendment No. 20, I would like to ask her whether the words,

"the effectiveness with which the functions of the local planning authority" include good design—the local planning authority's responsibility to ensure that the design is up to standard. Does "matters relevant to functions" in subsection (4)(b) of the new clause of her Amendment No. 34 again refer to the importance of good, high quality design?

Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative

My Lords, I support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. It is impossible to believe that social housing will appear in suitable quantity unless there is close co-operation. Any powers that put the HCA in the driving seat will therefore arouse resentment and will not be welcomed. During the passage of the Bill, I have not yet heard any evidence that anybody wants the HCA to, as they might express it, usurp the planning powers of any local authority. If you look at the market share of the HCA, its power rests on people knowing that it has money in its pocket; they go looking for that money to support an area of housing in which there is comparative market failure. However, that is only a relatively small proportion of the total housing market and of all matters that come before planning authorities.

If the Government set up an agency over which they have, by virtue of the Bill's language, close control, and use it to do things which will not be welcome to local authorities, whichever way you look at it the proceedings will fail. The intent of the Bill will not be met. The pledges and promises about the number of houses that we can expect over the next few years will not be fulfilled and there will be no improvement in the situation. I strongly believe that these overriding powers should not be in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Ford Baroness Ford Labour

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot support the noble Baroness's amendment nor those of the noble Lord, although I articulated some sympathy with their sentiments in Committee. I have two or three important points to make. In the valuable debate we had in Committee, we all understood how strongly views were held on planning powers. I say to the noble Viscount that some evidence suggests that these planning powers have been used entirely benignly and in a positive way over the past five years. It is useful to remember that we are not putting in the Bill the kind of culture, organisation and wide, sweeping powers that we saw in the New Towns Act 1946. We do the Minister's hard work and her amendments a disservice if we suggest that the HCA's planning powers would be used in that way.

I remind noble Lords of the example that I used in Committee, when I explained that English Partnerships has had these powers throughout its existence. We no longer look to the old model of new towns or other urban development corporations, where an organisation was set up entirely detached from local democracy and local authorities. Rather, we should look to delivery vehicles set up in the past five years, such as the Milton Keynes Partnership—with a progressive, intelligent, local authority—which has been a joint venture between local authority members, English Partnership board members and members of the local community, who now comprise the local planning authority. That authority has an independent chair, a person with a strong Milton Keynes track record. Evidence for this can be found in the amount of high quality development infrastructure that has been delivered in Milton Keynes compared to the rather arid scene of 10 years earlier.

It is right to say that these powers will be used exceptionally. The Milton Keynes partnership committee was indeed an exception and was initiated after extensive consultation, not just with the local authority but with a range of stakeholders. Ministers were at pains to stress that, although the Milton Keynes partnership uses the planning powers of English Partnerships, it is by no means controlled or dominated by English Partnerships. That is the reality of the way in which we set up delivery vehicles in the 21st century. We do not look towards the development corporations that we had in the previous century. I am sure that my noble friend will underline that when she responds. The concessions that the Government have made in their amendments make it clear that this provision will be used only in exceptional circumstances, in an entirely benign way and with the full agreement and co-operation of the relevant local authority.

The advisory team on large applications comprises specialist planning practitioners and is a joint team consisting of members of the department and English Partnerships. It has worked closely with local authority colleagues across the country, where they have asked it to intervene to help them process large, complex applications because they simply did not have the necessary skills and expertise. The great news for local authority colleagues is that they do not have to pay anything for that specialist advice. This has been a marvellous innovation in facilitating developments that would not otherwise have been brought forward by local authorities that were minded to support them but simply did not have the range of expertise to do so. I gently chide the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, as I think there is definitely scope for the HCA to facilitate and to provide support in that way.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 4:15 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who tabled these amendments. This has been an excellent debate, as it was in Committee. Although we consider that these amendments are not necessary, that does not mean that they are not important in prompting debate and enabling us to reconsider our response. I am also grateful for the contribution of my noble friend Lady Ford, who speaks with such clarity and authority; there is no substitute for practical experience. Although I shall do my best to persuade the House that we have responded to concerns with integrity and care—I accept that there are deep concerns about this issue—the fact that my noble friend was able to explain the circumstances under which exceptional powers are used in partnership was extremely helpful to everyone. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, also commented on the matter.

What we want the HCA to achieve—this is certainly true of the chief executive, Sir Bob Kerslake—could not be realised unless the entire organisation was completely committed to partnership with the agencies, especially local authorities, which will build the houses. The HCA's task is to ensure that all parts of the complex system for planning, regeneration and housebuilding work in harmony and to the best effect. That is what we want the HCA to achieve. Therefore, I completely concur with everything that noble Lords have said across this range of amendments about the need for partnership and a close working relationship. As Bob Kerslake says, the HCA will be the best and closest partner for local authorities. I hope that I will exemplify that in my response to these amendments.

I completely understand the intention behind Amendment No. 2, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. However, I cannot accept it because it would be too restrictive. Where the Secretary of State uses her powers to designate an area and confer planning functions on the HCA, the amendment would require it to exercise those functions by means of a committee. It specifies that the committee should meet in the local area within which any designated land lies. The noble Baroness spoke eloquently about the need to work closely with and listen to the local community, a matter that I shall return to when I discuss my amendments.

We believe that this amendment is too restrictive. The amendments that I will bring forward in respect of Clauses 13 and 14 provide that the HCA may set up a committee or sub-committee for the purpose of exercising planning functions, which would be a likely option. If it does so, it must inform every local authority for the designated area and invite them to suggest one or more candidates for membership of such a committee. However, I do not think that that is the only possibility or that we should stipulate in the Bill that it would be the only possibility for exercising functions.

The noble Baroness and I agree that it is important that the HCA, when acting as the local planning authority for a designated area, should be properly accountable to those living in and around that area. One way in which that might be achieved would be if the HCA exercised planning functions in meetings that were open to the public. When we come to the noble Baroness's amendment that deals with that point, in relation to Schedule 8, I will undertake to consider it. I am happy to help that amendment along. However, this amendment would restrict the ability of the HCA to exercise its functions as it sees fit.

Amendment No. 4, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, relates to working through the planning system. The noble Lord was eloquent in his concern and his conviction that the HCA will work only if it is within the planning system. He is right about that. We support everything that he says. In his attempt to ensure that the HCA works in partnership, he uses the term "co-operating". The language does not matter so much as the intent and what is to be achieved. His amendment refers to co-operating with local authorities and any other body involved in any activities related to its objects. He argued that, without express provision that the HCA must work through the planning system, it could be used to circumvent the system and local opinion to drive through unwanted development that is not in accordance with the development plan. He also argued that, without a requirement in the Bill compelling the HCA to co-operate with local authorities and other groups already working towards the achievement of its objects, the agency will be a top-down leviathan with no knowledge of or sensitivity to local concerns.

I cannot agree. There are a number of ways of interpreting the difference between co-operation and partnership. Co-operation is a slightly lower test than partnership, but the effect would be the same. It is simply not the case that the Bill as drafted in any way enables the HCA to circumvent any part of the planning system. Even in the unlikely event that the Secretary of State designates an area and confers responsibility for preparing and maintaining all or part of the local development framework for the designated area on the HCA, that in no way exempts the HCA from having to go through the same process as any other local planning authority to amend the plans for the area, including consultation and examination in public. If it is involved with a development that requires planning permission, that must be applied for and obtained in the normal fashion. There are no short cuts for the HCA. I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that this is a major undertaking. These plans are complex to make and amend. They will not be undertaken lightly. Nothing in the Bill in any way exempts the agency from abiding by the laws of the land, including on the development and use of land.

As for the HCA being centrally driven, it will work with local communities to determine the best way of delivering national objects locally. We have included the HCA as a body that will be a statutory partner authority for the local area agreement and local improvement targets. The agency will support local partners to deliver the new homes and regeneration projects that their communities need, which will have been identified at a local level. The agency will be working closely with local authorities and regional partners to identify the best way of delivering their priorities. The remainder of what I want to say about how this will work is best left until I address my amendments, because that will pick up the argument. If the noble Lord will forgive me, I will leave his amendment there.

Amendment No. 9, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is about the support that the HCA may provide to local planning authorities. The debate on that was quite lively. I am happy to give an assurance that the HCA will indeed share its planning knowledge and expertise with local planning authorities. I have said at different stages of the Bill that it is very much our intention that the HCA should become a one-stop shop for local partners who need to seek advice, guidance, skills or funding support. We have made provision for that in the Bill. For example, Clause 22 provides that the HCA may, with the consent of the Secretary of State, give financial assistance to any person. Clauses 41, 42, 43 and 47 empower the HCA to provide information services, advice, education, training, guidance and support services to those that need them, within its objects. To pick up the noble Baroness's language, the HCA will indeed be a centre of excellence and will put its expertise at the disposal of local authorities.

It is worth highlighting the excellent work of the existing organisations that will make up the agency. They are already working to provide support and improve knowledge and skills. For example, the Advisory Team for Large Applications, ATLAS, provides an independent advisory service to local planning authorities. It works with local authorities and the private sector to deliver large-scale development. ATLAS is sponsored by my department and is hosted by English Partnerships, as part of the Planning Advisory Service. As my noble friend said, that service already does an excellent job in assisting planning authorities in practical ways. However, these services should not be restricted to planning authorities. The Housing Corporation's good practice programme aims to encourage the development and testing of new ideas to generate and promote good practice in the delivery of social housing.

Within the centre of excellence is another resource of which I have great expectations: the Academy of Sustainable Communities. The academy has, for two or three years now, been applying itself to raising the skills and expectations of building communities, in terms not just of physical infrastructure but of what is needed in the social infrastructure of communities. The academy aims to inspire, motivate and influence people across many sectors to create sustainable communities. For example, its first priority was to work with schools. It works with people with leadership roles in the communities and with professionals. It will be a source of growing more planners. The academy is an exciting and innovative group of people. The HCA will be enriched, and it will enrich and expand its work, because of that. These are some of the tools currently at our disposal. I hope that they demonstrate our intentions for how the HCA will work to improve places and to grow the skills that we need.

Amendments Nos. 16, 21, 27, 35 to 38, 80, 81, 83, 85 and 192 are a group of miscellaneous government amendments. This is a sort of trailer for the more important amendments that I shall address in a minute. All these amendments are related and go some way towards responding to points raised by noble Lords in Grand Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, specifically asked for these amendments to be made. I gave him an undertaking to consider these clauses further, to determine whether they were necessary to the success of the HCA's operations and to return to them on Report. It was a useful exercise because, after consideration, we decided that the clauses were not needed and, therefore, we now seek to remove them from the Bill.

I am keen to respond to noble Lords' concerns about carrying forward all powers when they are no longer needed—we had an interesting debate on that in Committee—and so I hope that noble Lords will be pleased to hear that we have gone further still. We have removed the HCA's ability to serve notices on local highway authorities requiring them, under Clause 21, to connect private streets to existing highways. When we considered the use of Clauses 15, 16 and 17, it became evident that the powers of Clause 21 were not necessary. If the HCA wants a private street to be connected to an existing highway, it should work in co-operation with the local authority. It should not have a power that could be viewed as riding roughshod over it.

Although Clause 21 is not directly linked to the amendments to Clauses 15 to 17, it raises similar issues, and I hope that these amendments demonstrate to your Lordships that we see the partnership between local authorities and the agency as being fundamental to the success of the agency. By removing these clauses, we are confirming our commitment to the fact that designation powers will be used only in rare circumstances and that, where the agency is involved in a development or regeneration project, it will work with the relevant local highways authority to ensure that roads are connected if the development requires it. The remaining amendments in this group are all consequential on the deletion of Clauses 15, 16, 17 and 21. They remove references to the clauses and so can be considered as housekeeping amendments.

Before I come to the major block of amendments in my name, I want to say a few words about Amendment No. 15, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, concerning consultation with local government. This is an important issue, as I hope to show shortly, but I do not think that it is necessary to state in the Bill that the Secretary of State should consult the HCA. In practice, the Secretary of State will not possibly be able to designate an area out of the blue without the involvement of the HCA. She could not impose such resource-intensive work on the HCA without extensive planning, as that would jeopardise the HCA's ability to deliver against its objects. I hope that that has provided an introduction to Amendments Nos. 20, 22, 23, 24, 34, 66 and 68 in my name, which go to the heart of noble Lords' concerns about the designation power.

We have brought forward an important group of amendments in response to concerns raised in Committee about there being no explicit statement of partnership with local authorities in the Bill. We have also brought them forward to make it clear that the exceptional powers of designation will ensure a clear and central role for the respective local authority. I want to underline what the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said: planning control is central to local government; it is one of its most important functions. I have said again and again that we regard the relationship between the HCA and local government as a vital partnership. However, because it was clear that noble Lords wanted a more explicit statement of that fact in the Bill, I have tabled these amendments, which amount to a substantial package of government amendments.

The amendments should also be seen alongside something even more recent: the protocol with the LGA, which was launched in draft at the LGA conference last week. The protocol makes it clear how firm our commitment is to the new agency working in partnership with local authorities. The draft protocol is timely, as has become even clearer in the past few days. It says:

"The aim will be to reflect the shared endeavour between councils and central government to secure more and better homes that are both affordable and in places where people want to live, to regenerate and renew our most deprived communities, and to build councils' strategic capability to achieve these ends".

That is a powerful and welcome statement of partnership.

Amendment No. 68 will require the HCA to consult such representatives of local government as it considers appropriate about how the HCA pursues its objects and to publish a statement describing how it proposes to do that. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggested that he wanted psychology in the Bill that would indicate the nature and warmth of the partnership. I hope that we have achieved that in this amendment.

I understand that some noble Lords think that the proposed new clause is rather far into the text. I have some sympathy with that view. The problem is that this is where logically it should sit. It does not belong after Clause 2 because, while it is about the HCA pursuing its objectives, we do not yet know how the HCA will be empowered to do that. In so far as the architecture of every Bill has logic, this new clause is logically in the right place. I hope that, given the LGA protocol, the clear statement and the other changes, noble Lords will be satisfied on this point. We go on to explain how the HCA will be empowered. Clauses 3 and 4 elaborate on that, as do Chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 4 sweeps up the rest, and so on. It was not a question of tacking it on at the back hoping that nobody would notice. Far from it—I wanted it to be something to celebrate. Its location makes no difference; it has the same meaning wherever it is. I hope that it meets the objectives of noble Lords.

I turn to the designation powers set out in Clause 13. I studied the concerns expressed by noble Lords regarding the Secretary of State's powers, and I have tabled amendments that address the issues in three key respects. First, we have imposed a new standard, which the Secretary of State will have to meet in reaching a decision. Amendment No. 20 sets out in more detail when it would be appropriate for the HCA to be the local planning authority for the whole or part of the designated area. It provides that in determining,

"whether it is appropriate for the HCA to be the local planning authority"— in relation to the designated area—

"the Secretary of State must ... be satisfied that making the designation order is likely to improve the effectiveness with which the functions of the local planning authority ... are discharged".

My noble friend Lady Whitaker asked whether that would cover design. She will see that design is now expressed as an object, so it will certainly be part of the dialogue. In terms of effectiveness, it might mean that the area to be regenerated comes under more than one local planning authority, and the authorities find it challenging to co-ordinate their efforts. It might be that the regeneration objects are on a large-scale or a difficult site such that the local planning authority cannot deliver its ambitions for that site and maintain its level of service and core planning functions in the rest of the area.

That is a very important test. The amendment makes the Bill explicit that not only must the Secretary of State consider it appropriate that the HCA should be the local planning authority for the whole or any part of the area, but she should consider that the HCA is likely to make more effective the discharge of the planning functions in that area. We can cite the example Milton Keynes as satisfying that test. Taking these powers, should it happen, would be a serious step for the HCA. There would have to be a clear understanding that it would bring extra capacity and added benefit to any area in which the step is taken. It implies not that the powers will be used to punish less effective local planning authorities but that as a particular part of the consideration, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that giving a selection of planning functions the HCA will improve things.

Secondly, we have responded to concerns that the Bill was not clear enough about the consultation process and the place of the local authority within it. Amendment No. 22 imposes additional obligations on the Secretary of State that must be carried out before making a designation order. On top of the requirement to consult every local authority and/or local planning authority in any part of whose area is to be included, the amendment requires the Secretary of State to publish a draft of the order, reasons for making it, including why it is more effective, and to consult more widely on the proposed designation order.

Amendment No. 24 adds the duty to consult not only local authorities but the representatives of the interests of local authorities—something about which noble Lords were concerned—in this case, the LGA, and people who live or carry on business in the proposed designated area. They are added to the list of statutory consultees. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who talked about listening closely to what people in the local area are saying. That gives the local government community as a whole— local authorities, but also those most likely to be affected by the making of a designation order—far greater ability to inform a decision whether to designate an area and the form any designation order may take.

The noble Baroness asked me how that sits alongside the statement of local involvement. It is an addition to the provision in the 2004 Act, so there will be a separate statement on that point. I know that the suggestion that the Secretary of State consult directly with members of the public on the issue, rather than through the local authority, is unusual, but the use of the powers will be exceptional, so the circumstances will be unusual. It therefore seems appropriate that the Secretary of State should carry out a full public consultation in the affected areas. Of course, that would not prohibit an affected local authority from conducting its own consultation.

We have also proposed in Amendment No. 34 a new clause to prepare and publish a statement of local involvement to set up the policy and make it clear how much it will involve the local authorities and relevant people affected by the designation order. That would be published after any designation order is made, but before the HCA could use any powers conferred on it.

Thirdly, we are making provision for the local authority to be part of the implementation process, if a designation order is made. The new clause therefore also requires that where the HCA sets up a committee or sub-committee for the purpose of exercising functions conferred on it by a designation order or appoints a member to such a committee or sub-committee, it must inform every local authority for the designated area and invite the authority to suggest one or more candidates for membership. In practice, we expect that if the HCA ever has planning functions conferred on it, it will form a committee or sub-committee to exercise those functions. We further expect that if that happens, it will have members who will have been nominated by the affected local authorities.

The noble Baroness asked me about membership. I know that there is some pressure to set out the detail of how the committees and sub-committee might work, who might sit on them and in what numbers, but, given that in this whole process we want to enable local authorities to use their judgment, they should be left free to decide in the event how they do it. It would not be very sensible, given the possible permutations of sub-committees, committees, functions and so on, to lay down any hard and fast rules.

As I keep saying, we are here dealing with extraordinary circumstances. If the area is designated, we will certainly develop a robust code of practice and build on the experience of the Milton Keynes Partnership to address concerns about potential conflicts of interest, so there will be a clear code of practice to deal with the issues that the noble Baroness raised. We have examples—I will not go into them because this is a very long speaking note—of how that works. In Milton Keynes, for example, there are planning sub-committee standing orders that set references. The London Thames Gateway Development Corporation published a code of practice and terms of reference for the planning committee, and so on. I can provide noble Lords with a lot more detail. None of those examples will be an exact fit for the HCA being made into a local planning authority, but they give us some clear and reassuring ideas about how it could be managed in practice—we have some experience of success.

We are absolutely committed to working with and supporting local authorities, as the locally elected bodies, with their experience. We will ensure that the Homes and Communities Agency, should such a need arise, will have a full toolkit of powers to use. The Secretary of State's designation order-making powers are part of ensuring that it has a full toolkit, should it need it.

I believe sincerely that the overall effect of the amendments is to give local authorities and local residents a great ability to shape any possible designation order, to allow them to influence the decision to designate and the functions to be conferred. If the decision is taken to continue the designation order, local authorities will now have a greater ability to influence how the functions conferred on the HCA may be exercised.

The amendments, which include those on the general requirement on the HCA to consult representatives of local government about how it pursues its objects and to publish a statement describing how it proposes to do that, amount to a substantial package. That and the protocol with the LGA make it clear how firm our commitment is. I am delighted to tell noble Lords that the LGA has publicly welcomed this substantial package, and I hope that noble Lords will welcome it, too.

In that context, I shall deal with the noble Baroness's Amendments Nos. 17 to 19, 25, 26 and 28 to 33, which I hope she will see we have considered with equal care. Amendments Nos. 17 to 19 seek to remove the possibility of the Secretary of State determining that it is appropriate for the HCA to be the local planning authority for all permitted purposes and for all kinds of development. I understand what she is trying to do. She explained very clearly that she seeks to limit the HCA to being the local planning authority for specific permitted purposes for specific kinds of development. In fact, the amendments would not prevent the Secretary of State from determining that the HCA should be made the local planning authority for all permitted purposes for all kinds of development.

In order for the amendments to prevent him doing so, the noble Baroness would have to set out each purpose and each type of development in the designation order. That would make this about analysis and definition, as she said, but it would make things complex and rather unwieldy. It is right and proper that consideration should be given to each committed purpose and type of development. Full consideration would also have to be given to which functions should be conferred. However, the noble Baroness has made an interesting point, and I propose to return to this matter at Third Reading. I will think about her argument in the mean time.

I will not go into the detail of Amendment No. 25 and the question of a public inquiry, as I have tabled what I hope is a better alternative to a public inquiry, which is a much more limited option. I therefore hope to be able to chop half an hour from my speaking notes. I am sure that I will be incredibly popular if I do that.

Amendment No. 26 would exclude Part 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 from the permitted purposes for which the HCA could be made the local planning authority. That would mean that the Secretary of State could not confer plan-making functions on the HCA. I know that the noble Baroness feels very strongly about that. First, I shall address her point that this is an extension to the powers that could be conferred on predecessor bodies. UDCs, which have only development control functions available to them, have encountered real difficulties in working within a local plan that for some reason is not up to the task of delivering regeneration. With these updated powers, we are simply trying to provide for that exceptional circumstance and to ensure that that avoidable situation is avoided in the future.

The local development framework, as the noble Baroness will know only too well, aims to put greater emphasis on the development needs of a local area. Where the existing development plan for a designated area provided an up-to-date and relevant framework for the regeneration of the type of development envisaged, there would be no point in conferring plan-making functions on the agency. There would be a point only where a local development plan is out of date or inadequate for the regeneration activities which the local area urgently needs and which the agency can help uniquely to take forward. It is really important that this positive function can be conferred on the agency, because the agency's effectiveness will be limited without it. Again, we expect this function to be used extremely rarely. It will be conferred only where this is considered to be vital to the delivery of regeneration. This means that it will be used even less frequently because it will have to meet that condition as well. It might be appropriate where an area is designated which covers two or more local authority areas. Giving plan-making powers in that situation would enable the HCA to take a strategic and co-ordinated view of development prospects.

The amendment would restrict that, but in the event that it was made, it would now be subject to all the consultation procedures set out in the speaking note on the previous group. It will have safeguards, not least planned consultation but also parliamentary input, which should be sufficient to ensure that it will be conferred only where necessary and with appropriate constraints.

Amendment No. 32 would prevent the Secretary of State providing that any enactment relevant to the function to be conferred did not apply in the case of the HCA exercising local planning authority functions in a designated area. I am keen to maintain as much flexibility as possible in the Secretary of State's powers, but I can understand why the noble Baroness has difficulties with this provision. I want to return to that matter at Third Reading.

Amendment No. 33 would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to amend by order the definition of "planning-related provisions" or "relevant functions". The effect is to limit the functions that may be conferred to those set out in subsection (7), with the Secretary of State unable to amend them, except consequentially. I find it difficult to think of any circumstances in which the Secretary of State would want to amend these lists, other than consequentially. However, a new function might be created and the Secretary of State might wish to be able to confer it on the HCA, although even in those circumstances she could do so if the new function were to be created by primary legislation and an appropriate amendment were made to Clause 14(7). It is a wide power and the flexibility we sought to retain clearly concerns the noble Baroness even with the safeguard of any orders being made subject to affirmative resolution. I will also consider that issue further.

I am conscious of wearying the House, but I have come to the last amendments in this important group. Amendments Nos. 193 and 196 propose that any designation order should be made by affirmative resolution. The noble Baroness has argued that the very exceptional nature of these powers suggests that they should be the most powerful instrument available for scrutiny. I am not entirely persuaded by the argument, but I am inclined to take it away in the context of today's debate and what other noble Lords have said around the Chamber about the designated powers.

I know that I have spoken for a very long time, but I hope that I have answered most points that were raised. I do not think that I have anything else to say on any of these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government 4:45 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have shown such perception and care about these provisions. If noble Lords will bear with me, I shall deal with a few points in the order of my notes rather than the order of importance. On Amendment No. 9, clearly I did not make myself clear enough to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I am seeking to keep people as consultants in the public sector, not to the use the HCA as a training ground. I do not intend to push this matter further. I also am very grateful to the noble Viscount. To the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, I say that I do not dispute that there could be benign intent. Noble Lords in this Chamber are angels, but I cannot think of an amendment which says that this will apply only when everyone's intentions are benign.

The Milton Keynes example has been prayed in aid frequently because it is the only example available, but it is not one that can be applied directly to all the circumstances. It was a partnership which the local authority was happy to join; it was not an imposition and, indeed, it was an exception. Moreover, I think that my amendments are consistent with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, even though she said that she did not agree with them.

On Amendment No. 4, I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, would like to see these important notions spelt out, but they are more about the how than the what, and this clause is about the what. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, once paid me the compliment of saying that I was not a lawyer—he meant that I was not a barrister—but I have a lawyer's mind, which sees things progressing in sequence in the way described by the Minister. This amendment talks about the HCA working "through the planning system", but we could not have had more assurances that that is the case. I liked the Minister's comment that co-operation is of a lesser order than partnership. I am a little embarrassed and I am not arguing against the noble Lord, but I think his concerns are addressed.

I do not want to take too much time. I agree that the protocol with the local government world through the LGA is important, but it does not address the basic premise of whether it is right philosophically for an agency to take these planning powers. The comment that, in the past, urban development corporations have had difficulties when plans are not up to the mark should be answered by the HCA's ability, along with everyone else, to make representations during the construction of development plans and their modifications.

The noble Baroness has offered to consider so many of my amendments that it would not be appropriate for me to seek to take them further today. Although time is quite short, I hope that there will be an opportunity for us to discuss what the Government might bring forward, and I do not give any undertakings about not dividing the House in a week's time. A discussion about how we take these notions forward could cover one or two of the points that at this stage the noble Baroness has rejected. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

moved Amendment No. 3:

Schedule 1, page 153, line 9, at end insert—

"(2) Any such committee may delegate any function conferred on it to any sub-committee of the committee or to any staff of the HCA.

(3) See also section 45 (agency arrangements of the HCA with urban development corporations)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Objects]:

[Amendment No. 4 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

moved Amendment No. 5:

Clause 2, page 1, line 11, after "supply" insert ", accessibility"

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government

My Lords, Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are very simple. The clause deals with the quality and supply of housing, and states at line 11 on page 1,

"to improve the supply and quality of housing in England".

We thought to bring back again the issue of accessibility. One tends to think of accessibility as something achieved on foot, by bicycle or in a car, but of course the really significant issue here is access for people who are handicapped. Regrettably, this is a very difficult issue and it is vital to those affected by it. Amendment No. 6 deals with inclusiveness. If the amendment were agreed to, line 3 on page 2 of the Bill would read,

"to support in other ways the creation, regeneration or development of inclusive communities".

Inclusiveness would include the handicapped and all aspects of the community, particularly the disadvantaged.

These are important qualifications; there is no doubt about that. I suspect that the Minister will say, "Of course we are going to do that". All too often, despite the intent generally being there, this subject gets forgotten about. This is a problem because it affects a relatively limited section of the community. It is easier to acknowledge it in the breach than it is to do so in fact.

We return, to a degree, to the question of housing design, on which the Minister has conceded. Inclusiveness and access become important particularly when redeveloping areas of the country, and accessibility in particular is very expensive if you are trying to do something with existing housing. It is perfectly easy with regard to new development but if the need is not clearly driven into the minds of redevelopers from the start, it is possible that, simply on the grounds of economy, it will not be implemented, however good the intention.

These two very small amendments would improve that provision in the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 5:00 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the spirit of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. At Second Reading, I drew attention—at col. 83 of Hansard on 28 April—to some highlights of briefing that had been provided to certainly a number of us and perhaps to all of us by RADAR, Care and Repair England and the Habinteg Housing Association pointing out some pretty shameful facts about the inaccessibility of so much housing and the entirely unsatisfactory conditions in which too many disabled people are still expected to live.

I know that the Government are very serious in their intentions to do very much better in this regard. They have, of course, made their commitment that by 2011 all public housing will be built to lifetime home standards. I hope that my noble friend may be able to say something about the Government's intentions in regard to other housing—not public housing but housing that is provided privately on the commercial market, although that may be outside the direct remit of the Homes and Communities Agency and this Bill. If she did say something, the House would appreciate that. She may also reasonably say—I do not know—that disability discrimination legislation will enable us cumulatively to make an impact on this problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, suggested, accessibility is a very important subset of the broader principle of good design, which we are about to debate. I endorse the spirit in which the noble Lord has tabled and moved the amendment. I look forward to a constructive response from the Minister.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My Lords, I also support the amendment. I was not sure how important it was until I had lunch earlier today with people from the house-building industry. Some of them said that, in these straitened times, when several house builders are going to the wall and difficulties prevail, we will have to rein in some of the regulation that has cluttered the housing system. In particular, they drew attention to the fact that the accessibility standards of lifetime homes were being imposed upon new buildings. I had not quite appreciated that the Homes and Communities Agency may find itself under pressure, if not to renege on the progress we have made so far, not to make rapid progress to the final stages of incorporating all the lifetime home standards into new developments. This sent a shudder through me.

Accessibility is a key issue. We must make all homes in the future accessible not only to people with disabilities but to all kinds of families in all stages of life. Making the home an easier place to live in is a key part of design which adds little to the cost of each home, although it does add something. This essential ingredient could now be jeopardised by the straitened times in which the house-building industry finds itself. Strengthening the arm of the Homes and Communities Agency to resist any diminution in the existing strength of feeling for greater accessibility would be of great significance. Suddenly I have realised the importance of the amendment and I give it my heartiest support.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I associate these Benches with all the previous remarks. I hope the Minister will assure the House that her Amendment No. 7, which adds the objective of good design, not only covers aesthetics, which are very important, but extends to all the other elements of design, including accessibility.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, it is obvious that the House is united in the view that this is an issue of serious importance. It is certainly close to my heart. I argued in Committee that we have an ageing population. By definition, that means that we will have more people living longer with greater disabilities and we have to accommodate and plan for that in the most positive and proactive way.

Two of the ways in which we conceive the HCA working will address this issue. First, the HCA already has the object to improve the supply and quality of housing in England with a view to meeting the needs of people living in England. It could not be much clearer than that. It certainly goes wide enough to account for issues of accessibility. How can we interpret the notion of need unless we think about people whose needs are different and have to be met? Secondly, design includes matters such as accessibility. One of my particular preoccupations has been that we tend to think of accessible housing and housing for disabled people as having no design function, whereas we should be piloting the highest standards of design for people who have difficulty in accessing their homes, furniture and so on. So, yes, design includes accessibility.

The HCA will be focused on ensuring that the various needs of a diverse community are catered for by providing housing of different tenors and types, now and in the future. That means more accessible housing and more family housing; it means sustainable housing. Another thing about the way the HCA will work is that, like the Housing Corporation, it will respond to what local authorities tell it are their local needs. We have a cross-government public service agreement, which identifies four vulnerable groups in the community who have particular needs, not least for accommodation. One of those groups is people with learning difficulties; another is care leavers. We are looking to ensure that the Housing Corporation and the HCA, when it makes its allocations in discussion with local authorities, are well aware of the needs of these groups of vulnerable people.

We have ways and means of meeting needs, but I understand what the noble Lord has said. I am reluctant to single out a strand of housing that would entail a specific object being placed on the agency, no matter how much we all think it is important; it is not entirely wise to emphasise one particular type of housing in primary legislation. The Bill is trying to enable the HCA to meet all its challenges with sufficient flexibility.

The noble Lord, Lord Best, has raised the issue of lifetime homes. He knows how committed he and I are to making that a reality in the timescales that we have given. We have made a commitment that by 2011 all public sector-funded homes will be developed as lifetime homes, and we will work with the industry to ensure that all homes are built to that standard by 2013.

I know that the housing market is in difficult times. Frankly, though, one of the arguments I would put to the house-builders is that there is a market for homes for elderly people, who have proportionally far more wealth than they have had before, with the equity in their existing homes, but who do not move home because choices are not available to them. I say to those house-builders: think about that market, and about the social homes you could build that would appeal to people who at the moment are stuck in larger, inappropriate houses. I do not buy the argument that this is not an economic benefit to house-builders themselves.

Having said that, I will take the argument away and think some more about it. I cannot promise to come back with a solution at Third Reading, but I have heard what the House has said. I will think about whether there is some way that we can accommodate the principle.

I cannot say the same for inclusive housing, I am afraid, because it raises other major issues—not least that the HCA will simply not be doing its job if it is not conscious of the need to build inclusive communities, and that means communities that work. Communities work only if they offer a home and an environment to people who have a diverse variety of needs, such as we all know our society contains. It will be a requirement upon the HCA to succeed in doing that, and it will work closely with local authorities to achieve it. We all want to see confident and cohesive communities. The HCA will be subject to appropriate equality duties as well, and it will have to comply with the DDA.

The other problem I have with the term "inclusive" is that it can mean a lot of very different things. It would be a challenge, to say the least, to arrive at a definition that satisfied everyone. I hope that noble Lords will accept that I am doing my best and listening closely to what they are saying about accessible homes, but I cannot promise to take the "inclusive" amendment away.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, I appreciate what my noble friend has just said, but she placed her emphasis on the Government's intentions with regard to the provision of new housing. Will she say a little more about the Government's thinking about the upgrading of existing homes? I understand that when the Government have fulfilled their pledge of increasing disabled facilities grants by 31 per cent, they will still be spending only £166 million on those grants. That does not take us very far, given the scale of the problem—particularly if, as I understand it, the concomitant duty on local authorities to provide funding is to be relaxed. The HCA will have important responsibilities with regard to regeneration, and perhaps therefore to the upgrading of existing houses. Will the Minister say what powers and resources it will be able to use for that purpose?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I do not like to interrupt noble Lords when they are in full flow, but I ought to draw attention to paragraph 7.134 of the Companion, which governs how we respond on Report. We should not really make further interventions once the Minister has sat down. Questions should be asked only for elucidation.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Shadow Minister, Communities and Local Government 5:15 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, when he first intervened; the second time, I regret to say that it caused my eyebrows to twitch. Anyway, it was good to have his support and to know that we also have the support of RADAR. I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his remarks on lifetime homes, particularly regarding the immediate pressure, which appears to be coming from the industry, to relax our standards for what is, as I think we all hope and pray, no more than a relatively short-term difficulty. I am sure we would all agree that, however long this problem in the housing market lasts, it will be too long. Even if it goes on longer than any of us would like, I see no reason why we should not continue to aim to set very high standards, particularly in this area. As the Minister said, so many people now live in a handicapped way in homes that are simply unsuitable because there is no way for them to go anywhere else.

I am aware that lifetime homes will be taken care of, when it comes to building new homes, in a relatively short timescale. But if we do not keep this in our mind whenever renovations and redevelopment of existing housing are undertaken, we will miss a golden opportunity and might inadvertently condemn some people to problems which they would rather avoid. After all, it is not a question of making every door in a house wheelchair-accessible, but of making the house and perhaps the ground floor wheelchair-accessible, if not upstairs. This is not an unreasonable ambition.

I am most grateful to the Minister for what she had to say. I accept the problem of emphasising only one aspect, but if you do not continue to mention the smaller aspects, it is all too easy to neglect them. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say if she writes to me. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I am delighted to bring forward this amendment. We have spoken about design during the passage of the Bill; we had excellent debates on it on Second Reading and in Committee. This amendment is in response to the argument that has commanded support across the House. It is a small but significant amendment which puts good design at the heart of what the agency will be seeking to achieve and firmly in the right context.

There were some other suggestions from noble Lords about how design should best be addressed in the Bill. We resisted having a design champion on the board for some of the reasons I set out in Committee concerning the potential risks of placing responsibility in a single pair of hands or in cutting across the work of other bodies such as CABE. Nor have I taken the route suggested in Committee by my noble friend Lord Howarth to relate the concept of design to the design quality of housing. There is no problem with that approach in itself, but the effect would be to restrict references to design in the Bill to housing. In addition, the HCA may well be delivering various forms of infrastructure, community facilities, open spaces, or many other types of development, in all of which I hope design will be very important.

There were other proposals before us in Committee, and I have considered each of them. We have come to the conclusion that design is best addressed in the objects of the agency and in the context of sustainable development. That approach places design firmly at the heart of the agency's approach, and deals with it in terms of sustainable development, which is the correct approach. By doing that, especially putting it in the objects of the agency, we recognise its importance. It also means that the powers available to the agency can be used for the purposes of good design or for purposes incidental to it. I am delighted to have heard that our design stakeholders, such as RIBA, have warmly welcomed this amendment.

Placing design in the context of sustainable development links the topic to planning policy statement 1, Delivering Sustainable Development, which already states that:

"Good design ensures attractive, usable, durable and adaptable places and is a key in achieving sustainable development".

Surely, in that context, we want to capture design in this Bill and those are the principles that will underpin the development of sustainable communities where people want to live.

The amendment puts design in a central role in the Bill for the agency, and will stress its importance in all aspects of the agency's work, not just housing. I hope noble Lords will feel that this will have achieved all that they wanted to achieve in the debates that we had, and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, what can I say? What can we all say to my noble friend but "Thank you"? She is adding to the objects of the HCA an explicit object that it shall contribute to the achievement of good design in England. She accepted the essential spirit and purpose of a number of amendments that we debated in Grand Committee. It was important that there was all-party support for the spirit and purpose of those amendments. I particularly appreciate the support of my noble friend Lady Whitaker. She is, by herself, worth an army.

This is a civilised and proper thing that the Government are doing, which will improve the quality of life in this country. I absolutely accept what my noble friend just said—that it is greatly preferable that this duty and the benefits that will flow from it should not be confined to housing and individual buildings, but cover development, which the HCA is able to influence more broadly, so that the spaces between and around buildings will be of better design, the infrastructure that we develop will be better designed and the whole process of regeneration will be characterised by a commitment to good design.

It may be a statement of the obvious that we ought to be committed to good design, but by writing it explicitly into the legislation, we have very valuably gone beyond the relatively vague and generalised terms that were already in the Bill such as quality and well-being. That there will be a statutory duty for the HCA to promote good design will make all the difference. Amid the welter of other duties and pressures that will be on the HCA, design might have fallen by the wayside. Indeed, notwithstanding the positive commitment and substantial achievements of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships in relation to design in recent years, there is a longer melancholy history of a failure to pay sufficient attention to good design. The HCA will now have fully to heed best practice, the best advice that it can obtain from CABE, the professional institutes, academia and the best practitioners, and from the DCLG itself.

The key, as we noted in Grand Committee—the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made this point powerfully—is that there should be an understanding of the nature of good design and a commitment to it deeply imbued in the institutional culture of the HCA. I still think that it would be no bad thing if one of the members of the board of the HCA had experience and capacity in design matters. However, what will matter infinitely more is the leadership given to the HCA by its chief executive, Sir Bob Kerslake. There is every indication that he will personally take this responsibility very seriously indeed, and I look forward to the newly appointed chair, Robert Napier, doing likewise.

I have a handful of questions to ask my noble friend. If she cannot answer them today perhaps she will write to us before Third Reading.

What means does the department expect the HCA actually to use to promote good design, and what will the department itself be doing alongside to support the normalisation of good design and to create a supportive context?

What will the department's wider strategy be? We know and welcome very much that the Secretary of State, Hazel Blears, has told CABE that she wants people to live in beautiful homes, but I emphasise, as my noble friend just did, that design goes well beyond questions of aesthetics. We are not looking to the DCLG, and certainly not to the HCA, to be a kind of central taste police. There are many matters other than aesthetics entailed in good design. We talked just in the last debate about the importance of lifetime homes, accessibility and adaptability. There is also the requirement that new homes and new buildings should be carbon neutral in a certain space of time. There is also much experience with such familiar concepts as designing out crime and ensuring that provision of transport services and facilities does not dehumanise communities.

I have some specific questions for my noble friend. Do the Government intend to introduce minimum space standards? If they themselves do not do so, will they endorse the HCA if it introduces minimum space standards in those areas that it can control? Does she expect that the Government will make building regulations more substantial and better able themselves to promote good design, and do more to ensure that building regulations are taken seriously and well enforced? Will the Government seek to generalise the use of the Building for Life standards? What is now the state of the Government's thinking on new design quality metrics which were adumbrated in the Green Paper and a possible design quality assurance scheme which would enable developments to proceed faster if they met certain criteria of design?

How does my noble friend expect CABE to relate to the HCA? It is particularly important that CABE should be able to offer its expertise and judgment because, after all, we will never achieve good design by formulaic methods or bureaucratic devices. What is the Government's thinking now on housing and planning delivery grant and whether it should reward quality as well as quantity in the provision of new homes? Do the Government intend energetically to use their influence to ensure that design review facilities and pre-application discussion are available appropriately throughout the country and, at the other end of the process—this was the subject of an amendment that we debated in Committee—will the Government encourage the HCA itself to use "post-occupancy analysis"? That rather forbidding jargon term actually means asking people who will live in these homes whether they consider that their homes are well designed.

What do the Government intend to do about education and training? Will they work with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and with the Higher Education Funding Council for England as well as with those in RIBA, in the RTPI and in the Urban Design Alliance who are seeking to develop a common foundation curriculum for students who are going to become architects, surveyors, planners, highway engineers and landscape designers, so that all of them should be educated in good design and should at least speak a common language and understand each other? I remind the House of my declaration of interest as an honorary fellow of RIBA.

My noble friend spoke very helpfully just now about the Academy for Sustainable Communities and the work that it is expected to do to remedy the deficiencies of skills. She has told us, in one of the helpful pieces of correspondence which she sent to Members of the Committee, about the funding that will be available for the Academy for Sustainable Communities from 2008-09 to 2010-11. It would certainly be helpful if she could say rather more about the expectations that the Government have of the academy.

Does my noble friend expect the Homes and Communities Agency to report in its annual report on what it has done in the previous year and what it plans to do in the following year in fulfilment of its statutory object to contribute to the achievement of good design in England? How will the DCLG monitor the overall performance of the HCA in regard to its design responsibilities, in a sensible relationship of course, without breathing down its neck and second guessing it all the time? How will it satisfy itself that the HCA will fulfil our best hopes for design?

We can shortly return to some of these themes and issues in the Planning Bill. Meanwhile, I welcome the amendment. It will lead to better design, directly in social housing and more indirectly through the HCA's influence on the volume housebuilders, where it is assembling land and is a key player in regeneration. Not only homes but all sorts of buildings will be better designed on land that the HCA makes available. The amendment means that the lives of many people will be improved in the years ahead.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 5:30 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind words; I agree with everything else that he said. I also congratulate the Minister on her imaginative response to our debates on design. All our communities will be the better for it.

Photo of Baroness Ford Baroness Ford Labour

My Lords, I, too, welcome the amendment. I take slight issue with one aspect of what my noble friend Lord Howarth said. He listed a whole range of organisations on whose advice the Homes and Communities Agency should rely: CABE, the professions and so on. Later, he mentioned "post-occupancy analysis". I have no idea what that is, but I suspect that it is a question of asking people what is wrong with new developments after they are in them; they will be quick to tell you. In supporting the amendment, I say to the noble Lord that I hope that the Homes and Communities Agency talks to real people from time to time, before it listens to architects and a whole range of other professionals who, although no doubt well intentioned, do not always get it right. We do not have to look much further than the current arguments around Robin Hood Gardens in London, where almost every eminent architect has rolled up to say what a marvellous place it is, and, almost without exception, every resident has said that it is a living hell. In not being too unkind to the professions, I gently suggest—no, I insist—that we tell the Homes and Communities Agency to listen to real people before, not after, the event.

Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative

My Lords, in welcoming the amendment, I put myself into the minds of the HCA management and address their need always to get their priorities right, and to know what they can and cannot do. Bearing in mind that one person's good design is another's white elephant, it is probably quite good to be cautious. The wording of the amendment is, happily, quite cautious; if I were part of the HCA management, I could live with it. They contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and good design in England. That is a limited duty, and I would be happy to find it so were I involved in the HCA.

Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that the amendment has received. One of the first things that Sir Bob Kerslake should do when setting up the committee, or Joint Committee—perhaps with CABE—is to read your Lordships' debate. He will find an agenda for his first meeting and some important principles for how he and the agency should best proceed to make a success of this challenging new agenda.

It is a new agenda: it is the first time that we have ever required a public agency to address design issues in this way. That is important and quite radical. The HCA is a new organisation. I cannot second guess how it will work, nor would I want to. I can only pledge that it will work as closely as possible with CLG and CABE. We look forward to the inspiration that it will offer the department in raising our own already high standards in the attention and priority we give design in all our work, whether it is new build, new development or regeneration.

If the noble Lord will forgive me, I will not answer his detailed questions this evening, although I could. It would be better to write to him and set out the full responses his questions deserve. They are complex, and cross more than just my department; for example, on education and training. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me, but I assure him that yet another letter is coming his way.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative

moved Amendment No. 8:

Clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—

"( ) In assessing the needs of people living in England in accordance with subsection (1), the HCA shall balance the needs for affordable housing in urban and non-urban communities."

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative

My Lords, I remind the House of my declarations of interest made at earlier stages of the Bill, including being a councillor involved in planning and a landlord of rental accommodation.

The amendment deals with the viability of rural areas, and the balance of the needs of urban and non-urban areas. There was widespread recognition from all parts of the Chamber during the Second Reading, and in Grand Committee, that rural areas have not received their fair share of resources, and that the concentration of effort has been directed towards urban areas. This is supported by recent House of Commons Library figures, which found that London and other cities now receive up to twice as much per head from the Government as their rural counterparts.

The result has been that, of the total housing stock in urban areas, 23 per cent—nearly one in four—is social housing; while in rural areas, only 5 per cent—one in 20—is social housing. These figures come from the Government's Affordable Rural Housing Commission's report. A Defra report on population trends in rural areas found that the population in rural districts has risen eight times faster than in urban areas. Furthermore, the Halifax review in 2007 found that the average price of housing in rural areas was £30,000 more expensive than in urban areas, while the average earnings were £5,000 lower. Those seeking housing in rural areas have the raw end of the deal; the cards are stacked against them. To get a roof over their heads, many are forced to move out of their rural areas to towns and cities, doing untold damage to community cohesion in rural areas.

With this background in mind, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith and I tabled two amendments in Committee. The first concerned the composition of the board. I argued that there must be representation on the board from those organisations operating at the coal face. In order to address the present imbalance for rural housing, I argued that there should be a champion for rural housing on the board. In response, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said that she was,

"not in favour of a single champion for rural areas", and that she hoped that,

"the board will achieve that by having a genuine mix of experience, so rural areas will not need a separate champion because they will be championed by the board".—[Official Report, 13/5/08; col. GC 271.]

The noble Lord, Lord Best, suggested that the HCA should be required to consult a number of organisations whose interests should be represented. The Minister assured the Committee that the HCA would fully consult with a wide range of interested organisations. We are happy to accept those assurances.

Later in Grand Committee, we tabled an amendment that required that,

"the HCA shall take particular account of the viability of rural communities".

The amendment's sentiment was widely supported, and there was general agreement over the concerns for rural communities.

However, in responding, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that he did not like the wording of the amendment as it required the HCA to pay particular attention to rural areas rather than take a more rounded approach to all areas. He added that recently more funds had been allocated to rural districts for social housing and that he,

"would expect that to continue over into the new agency".—[Official Report, 3/06/08; col. GC 14.]

While I concede that there has been an improvement recently, I hope that he will concede that as the Bill stands there is no guarantee that this improvement will continue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, wrote a very helpful letter to all Members of the Committee with two pages devoted to this rural issue. In it she said:

"I wanted to take this opportunity to reiterate the Government's absolute commitment to the importance of ensuring the viability of our rural communities. I wanted in particular to emphasise the importance my Department attaches to the issue of rural housing".

She also said that she,

"must continue to resist making specific reference to rural communities on the face of the Bill, as I would not wish to specifically raise the needs of rural communities above all other communities in England".

This very much echoed what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said in Committee. Therefore, we have to decide whether we can accept the Minister's assurances that rural areas will receive a fair crack of the whip in future years. I have to say that we on these Benches remain sceptical. After all, the Minister's own department's report from the Affordable Rural Housing Commission highlighted the crisis in rural housing in 2004. Yet, four years later, there is still only 5 per cent of affordable housing in rural areas as a percentage of the total housing stock.

I also remind the House that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, who recently headed the Housing Corporation—I am sorry that she is not in her place—said at Second Reading:

"It is essential that, somewhere within the new system, there is something ensuring that rural housing is not forgotten. It would be so easy to forget it".—[Hansard, 28/04/08; col. 59.]

That provision should, presumably, be included in the new Housing Bill. We on these Benches agree with the noble Baroness. Therefore, we have tabled this amendment, which states that,

"the HCA shall balance the needs for affordable housing in urban and non-urban communities".

Noble Lords will see that in response to the Minister's letter we have removed the requirement specifically to raise the needs of rural communities above those of all other communities. The amendment leaves it up to the HCA to decide how best to balance the needs for affordable housing in urban and non-urban areas. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept it. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour 5:45 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, I have great sympathy for the case that was so ably made in Committee and this evening. I do not think anyone disputes that there is an urgent need to provide more affordable urban housing. The case can also be made that there is an urgent need to provide affordable housing in non-urban communities. The stance you adopt on the issue depends on your background, where you live and the area that you have represented as a politician. Many areas in my former constituency and on Tyneside, where I was born, could also make out a very good case for special treatment.

The Government's response to the amendment in Committee was sympathetic and I have no doubt that it will be reiterated tonight. They said that the body that will have responsibility for this matter will be best able to judge the appropriate balance in this regard. The noble Earl properly made the case for the housing needs of rural communities to be taken into account. However, he ought to ask himself why they appear to have greater needs than urban areas in that regard. It is a sad fact that much of the housing that was provided by previous Labour and Conservative Governments and by Labour and Conservative county councils was sold off to people who were desperate for housing. The building of affordable council housing in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s was the salvation of those people. They were grateful for the opportunity to live in that housing as they were able to rent affordable homes in nice areas. However, they were especially grateful to the Government who at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s gave them the right to buy. Initially, I did not think much of people who, having been grateful to local and national government for providing them with a council house, then bought that home. However, I realised that it was a once-in-lifetime opportunity for many people to buy a house. They took that opportunity and repaid those who gave them the right to buy by supporting them politically. However, 30 years later there is a price to be paid in rural and urban areas for allowing that housing to be bought. The Minister and her colleagues will have to try to repair the damage caused to affordable housing, which was dealt that body blow some 30 years ago.

I sympathise with those who live in rural areas and have difficulty finding homes, but it is a matter of joining the queue in this regard. There are such queues all over the place, although not where I live in Loughton—the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, knows Loughton better than I—which is a salubrious, well-heeled area. It has council housing, although I have not traced which Government were responsible for providing it. There is affordable housing all over the place. Having been the chairman of a housing committee, I know that trying to ensure that the housing that is available goes to those who need it is a thankless task. I anticipate that the Minister will say that the HCA will be the best body to judge this matter, bearing in mind its responsibility to treat fairly all those who need homes. I would not complain if it decided that most of the housing should be built in rural areas as that would mean housing would be provided in the places where it considered there was greatest need, and that is where it should be provided. I congratulate the noble Earl on his compassion in raising this issue. However, I believe that we should not include a specific provision in the Bill but rather should trust the highly qualified people who will be appointed—none of whom I know, of course—to provide housing for all those in need wherever they may live.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, I have lived and worked in rural areas for well over 50 years and have spoken about rural housing and asked Questions in your Lordships' House on a good many occasions. I initiated a debate on the Duke of Edinburgh's special inquiry committee into rural housing quite a number of years ago. I therefore strongly welcome this amendment, and I am delighted that its wording contains a reference to balance between rural and urban areas. I ask the Government to look at it extremely carefully. I do not think it is sufficient just to rely on trust. All government policies are supposed to be rural-proofed, and this is an area where that is particularly needed.

Photo of Viscount Eccles Viscount Eccles Conservative

My Lords, I draw noble Lords' attention to another point. We are in discussions about eco-towns. It is not always right to think in terms of houses going where people need them. It is sometimes difficult to find places and opportunities to build houses where people need them immediately, but that does not go against the provision of more affordable housing because nowadays people move about. If there are better opportunities to provide the houses in places where people do not yet live, those houses will be best provided. I am sure that one aspect of what will happen in the market is that people will move to the houses because they will find good reasons to live somewhere other than where they started. In our society as a whole, the number of people who live in a different place from where they started is rising every year.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. It is great to have another champion of rural housing in your Lordships' House alongside the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who has been a champion of rural housing for all these years. I should know because I was secretary to the Duke of Edinburgh's inquiry in 1976, which reported on this matter. The noble Lord spoke shortly after we reported on that issue.

Why should rural housing get a special mention in the duties placed upon the HCA? For the past 34 years, not least from your Lordships' House but from other quarters as well, the Housing Corporation has been constantly reminded that this small corner of the total housing picture deserves some special, extra attention. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, made the important point that the right to buy has had a special influence in rural areas. People have bought their homes in rural areas to a greater degree than in urban areas. I could take noble Lords to a very pleasant village in Dorset that had 17 council houses on its edge. They have all now been sold and there are no social housing homes in that village. The right to buy can wipe out all the social housing in certain places. The constant reminder to the HCA that this is a part of the scene that needs a bit of attention is important.

The new agency brings together the powerful English Partnerships and the extra powers from the Department for Communities and Local Government, almost all of which concern urban issues; for example, the Thames Gateway, urban development companies, the regeneration agenda and the housing market renewal pathfinders in the north. Those are all urban issues. Rural housing has already been a difficult part of the housing scene to hang on to. There is a danger of it being watered down unless there is a reminder that it is part of the duties that the Homes and Communities Agency must take into account.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I had a problem with this amendment in the previous stage because of the phrase "in particular". I used the term "balance" then. I am pleased to see that that notion has been taken forward in this amendment. In Committee, I was persuaded by the descriptions given by the noble Lord, Lord Best, of the difficulties of achieving housing in rural areas. I think he mentioned Cerne Abbas then. He might have roamed around the whole of Dorset; I do not know whether it is the same Dorset village. Over the years, I have slowly been coming to the realisation that it is necessary to pay—I shall use the term—particular attention to achieving housing in rural areas because, in some ways, it is much more difficult. It is not just a question of numbers here or there. Ensuring the success of rural communities is a major objective. As the debate has gone on, that qualitative distinction of rural areas has been brought out.

This is not intended as a cavil but like, I dare say, many noble Lords, I am more urban than I am rural, but I am probably suburban. That may be a bit middle-aged and boring, but an awful lot of people live in the suburbs. Many of them are pretty good places. When the noble Earl sums up, I hope he can assure me that suburban is within his term "urban".

During the previous stage, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said that the predecessor amendment was unnecessary, and he may be about to say something similar today, but I hope he will address whether it is wrong.

Photo of Baroness Ford Baroness Ford Labour

My Lords, I am not able to support the noble Earl's amendment, but not because I do not think the spirit of what he described is right. We all understand that the fragility of services in rural communities has a direct relationship to the critical mass of hamlets and villages, and the inability to maintain basic services—education, local schools and so on—is critically dependant on the provision of proper housing and housing for young families. We all understand how difficult it is for young families to be able to stay near grandparents and to have the kind of social network that would come from being able to access to affordable or market housing close to where they grew up. My objection to the amendment is that, as it stands, I do not think it achieves what the noble Earl would like to do.

In Committee and today, we have talked a lot about the need to respect local authorities' say-so over the plans in their area. One of their particular responsibilities is to express the housing need in their area and the Homes and Communities Agency responds to that. That has always been the way in which the national affordable housing programme has been invested over the years. We cannot on the one hand say it is for local authorities to articulate that and for the HCA to respond and on the other hand say that the HCA is to do that. As I read the noble Earl's amendment—and he may correct me if I am wrong—it would not achieve the intention he sets out, however much support there is for it around the House.

Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 6:00 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, I support the amendment. Indeed, I had a great deal of sympathy with the similar amendment tabled in Grand Committee. I will not rehearse the statistics; we heard ample statistics in Grand Committee on the extent to which rural communities have different growth trajectories for social housing and those statistics are on the record. I shall make two or three simple points on why the availability of more affordable housing in rural communities is a matter of concern and why, therefore, it should be addressed through this amendment.

First, the principle is simple. There are people who either choose to live outside cities or simply cannot afford to live in cities, but that does not mean that they should not have a voice. There is the idea of being part of a community. Indeed, we now have the Department for Communities and Local Government. The idea of communities is at the heart of what this Government believe should be a tool for regeneration, for reinvigoration and for making people have shared endeavour and shared purpose. Therefore, it is extremely important that those people should have a voice, although they may well be small in number and are not for whatever reason—whether choice or affordability—part of the larger urban or suburban landscape. However, because of the unfortunate figures and the changes in trends on the amount of social housing available, those people are losing their voice.

Secondly, democracy is part of the shared endeavour. The noble Baroness, Lady Ford, rightly argued that there should be local decisions and so on, but you can diminish democracy. The HCA will have considerable powers and resources. Should there be in the Bill a duty on the HCA to take account of rural communities? That democratic voice would be far more to the forefront if the amendment were made. It is as simple as that.

We go for champions in other areas of life. We recognise the need for ethnic minorities and women to be represented on boards and so on. Ideally, I would have liked to see a champion, but I accept that that is not where we are. Even if we do not have a champion to speak for rural communities, the amendment would concentrate peoples' minds, not necessarily when they are making clear-cut decisions on the allocation of resources and so on, but when they are making decisions in the grey area where there are conflicting priorities—and there are many priorities. That is when such a duty would make a difference. It would be assessable, because we would be able to see the extent to which rural aspects had been brought to the fore.

Finally, on something more topical in relation to what the Prime Minister said today in Japan at the G8 summit, we are considering exhortations that we need to live more environmentally coherent lives—for example, that we need to conserve energy and, more recently, the supply of food. We will achieve those longer-term environmental objectives only if we recognise that a lot of the policies that we undertake today will impact on those objectives. We should make provision for smaller numbers of people from minority groups who choose to live near where they were born or where their parents live—not people such as me who have come from half way across the world, or my siblings, but people who want to be within 15 miles of where they were born when they die. It is important to recognise that the longer-term environmental objectives that we want to achieve may well be served by giving voice to those people and catering for their needs. That objective may well be among the intentions of the noble Baroness, but it is not in the Bill and it would be most helpful to see it there.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, this has been one of those extraordinary debates where we have gone from the local to the global. We have scaled the back history of housing with input from my noble friend, who talked about the long-term impact of council house sales, and we heard heartfelt pleas from the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for people who live in rural communities. He added his important voice to a debate that has continued in your Lordships' House for some decades. We have benefited from the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Best, who has great experience in this field.

We are talking about the creation of the HCA, an important agency, to address many of these issues. As the noble Earl reminded us, this issue has caught our attention at all stages of our important deliberations on the Bill. The observation of the noble Lord, Lord Best, on the rural community in Dorset reminded me of my rural roots. I mentioned previously that I grew up on a rural council estate in Great Bentley. Much of that estate of some 50 houses and bungalows was sold off as part of the right-to-buy process. Most of those homes were built for people working on the land just after the war and for people who worked in offices and factories in Colchester or Clacton. Those homes provided an important service for lower-income earners. I well understand the issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart.

The noble Earl's earlier amendment used the term "particular". At the end of our deliberations in Committee, there was an understanding, best enunciated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that "particular" did not work well in the context of the noble Earl's amendment. I carefully read this amendment, which asks that,

"the HCA shall balance the needs for affordable housing in urban and non-urban communities".

The amendment does not make precise reference to rural communities; it describes anything that is not urban as "non-urban" and it talks about balancing the needs. I have difficulty with the amendment, because the call to balance could arguably end up as some imbalance. There is a problem with the wording. I do not know how much the noble Earl tested out the amendment before tabling it, but there are technical difficulties in what he is trying, understandably, to achieve.

I want further to address the issues before I conclude my comments, because some things are worth putting on the record. I entirely agree that more affordable homes need to be built in communities that most need them. There is undoubtedly a backlog of need in some rural communities for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord Best, enunciated. Others have also given voice to that. There is no question but that one of the central tasks of the new Homes and Communities Agency will be to deliver more affordable housing where that need is greatest. The agency will focus on delivering more new affordable homes across all tenures, in mixed and sustainable communities, and it will drive and invest in regeneration and revitalising existing communities.

To do this, the HCA will support local partners that will deliver the new homes and regeneration projects and it will provide advice and support for innovative new approaches to delivery—for example, through new local housing companies or community land trusts, which have had a great deal of support during our discussions. It will also help to drive more effective joint working with the emerging private sector partners. In taking over the affordable housing programme from the Housing Corporation, it will secure the delivery of 70,000 new affordable homes per year by 2010-11. In the current market conditions, this role becomes ever more important and the agency's ability to act innovatively and in partnership to respond to new challenges becomes vital.

Therefore, the noble Earl's concerns will be met by the new agency focusing on delivering affordable housing across all our communities. The amendment is not essential to ensure that; the Bill's clauses are already clear on this point. Indeed, with its reference to housing needs assessment, the amendment seems unhelpfully to require the HCA to replicate functions already carried out by local authorities, so there is also a difficulty with it in that respect. Local authorities are already required to undertake housing needs assessments and it would be an unnecessary waste of resources to require the HCA to carry out a similar exercise. Indeed, local authorities are far better able to assess the housing needs in their area than a national agency such as the HCA. I imagine that, with his background experience in a rural local authority, the noble Earl would appreciate that more than most.

The other issue raised by the amendment is the importance of affordable housing in both urban and non-urban communities. I have already explained that the agency will work with local authorities across the country, supporting rural and urban authorities in meeting the needs of their communities. Local authorities will identify those needs and the agency will have the resources to help to meet them where it is practical for it to do so.

As we have said many times before, we see the agency as being local authorities' best delivery partner. To help to strengthen that message, the draft protocol between the HCA and local authorities—I am sure that the noble Earl has seen it—demonstrates the commitment of both central government and the LGA to working together to meet today's and the future's housing and regeneration challenges.

I know that the House takes this issue seriously. As I think was acknowledged in my noble friend's letter, at earlier stages we set out in some detail exactly how government are responding to challenges in rural areas and how the Homes and Communities Agency will help local authorities to respond to the needs of their communities in the rural context.

I extend an offer to noble Lords to hear in more detail about the work of the agency at a meeting on this important issue with the chief executive designate, Sir Bob Kerslake, and the chair designate, Robert Napier. I think that noble Lords would find it helpful to have the opportunity to discuss what the agency can do in practice and to raise any concerns that they have. My noble friend Lady Andrews and I will be happy to arrange that discussion and more than happy to ensure that colleagues who are particularly exercised by the import of rural communities take part in it. I know that Sir Bob Kerslake recognises that the agency will have a key role in supporting rural communities, including focusing on the provision of affordable rural housing. I know also that he has met Matthew Taylor MP to discuss his review of the rural economy and affordable housing and that he has seen, and commented on, his draft report. He also recently met the all-party group on rural affordable housing and intends to meet the Rural Housing Advisory Group on Thursday this week. Therefore, much is going on with regard to this policy area. Of course, the Rural Housing Advisory Group will act as an advisory body to the HCA to ensure that rural housing issues are seen very much as part of its focus and remit.

As I said at the outset, I do not think that the amendment works entirely well. There are technical problems with it and I do not think that it would work as well as the noble Earl might wish. I know that he is pressing his case and that he has a lot of support in your Lordships' House. I hope that I have reassured him but I place one final commitment on the record. If the noble Earl will withdraw the amendment this evening, we will be happy to have further discussions with him to see whether we can meet his concerns and those of others before we return to debate the Bill at Third Reading.

There is a genuine problem with the amendment and I am not sure that it is the most appropriate way to deal with this issue. However, we are certainly happy to explore it further because there is clearly a consensus that we need to ensure that the HCA focuses not just on urban areas, although that has never been our intention. We need to ensure that the HCA is understood to have the widest possible remit and that it addresses the real concerns relating to rural poverty and, as some have seen it, the rundown of the provision of affordable housing in some rural communities. I have given some fairly firm commitments and I hope that the noble Earl will be able to withdraw his amendment. We are happy to continue discussion on this issue before Third Reading.

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative 6:15 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, that was a useful debate and I thank all—or nearly all—Members for their support. The noble Lord, Lord Best, asked why rural housing should get a special mention. I think that that was a rhetorical question because he then went on to explain exactly why it should get a special mention. In the same vein, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, asked why there was a greater need for help in rural as opposed to urban communities. I listened carefully to his contribution but I could not make up my mind about it. At times, he seemed to support the amendment and at others he seemed to speak against it.

I shall tell the House why rural communities need greater help. In the five years from 2001 to 2005, the Commission for Rural Communities highlighted a gap, in that the amount of affordable housing built in predominantly rural districts increased by only 3 per cent compared with 22 per cent in predominantly urban districts. That is why rural areas have been falling behind and why in future there needs to be a balance between the urban and rural areas.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether suburbia was included in urban or non-urban areas. The point is that it is up to you. You can decide whether it is urban or suburban; it has to be one or the other. In the earlier letter to which I referred, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, tried to confuse the matter slightly by asking about district and coastal towns. Rather than trying to be precise in this amendment by putting in "rural" and having that same ball batted back at me, I thought that we would refer to "urban and non-urban communities". The board of the HCA has to balance what it will do between urban and non-urban areas. It is up to it, so it is not confusing at all. The Minister said that he had a problem with the word "balance", but it is up to the HCA to work out how to balance needs.

I do not buy the Minister's argument that there is a technical problem. The problem is that non-urban areas desperately need a better balance of resources going forwards. They have not had that for a number of years—I shall not specify the number. The balance needs to be redressed. The amendment is not trying to be prescriptive by saying that for every £4 spent in urban areas we must spend £1 in rural areas or that for every four houses built in urban areas we must build one in a rural area. It says that it is up to the HCA board to balance the needs for affordable housing in urban and non-urban areas. It is for the HCA to work it out.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, kindly offered a promise of a talk. He did not promise anything for the Bill. Whereas a talk might be valuable, we really need something—

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, perhaps I was being Delphic, but when I referred to a discussion I did not mean about nothing. It was to see whether there was some substance with which to aid the process. The offer was that; it was not to talk about nothing. I am happy to discuss wording with the noble Earl.

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative

My Lords, I take that to mean that the Minister will discuss doing something of substance with the words of the amendment, such as including "rural housing", "balancing rural housing", or whatever words are required. I suggested in Committee that the Minister should do that but nothing was done then, so it does no harm to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 96; Not-Contents, 128.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Housing and Regeneration Bill

Aye: 94 Members of the House of Lords

No: 126 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 6 [Powers for regeneration, development or effective use of land]:

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative 6:33 pm, 7th July 2008

moved Amendment No. 10:

After Clause 8, insert the following new Clause—

"Flood assessment

Before exercising its powers under sections 5 to 8, the HCA shall—

(a) assess fully the risk of flooding to any new development;(b) assess fully the impact of any new development on downstream risks;(c) ensure that any new development is flood resilient and resistant."

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative

My Lords, the amendment requires the HCA to assess the risk of flooding to any new development and the impact that any new development may have on downstream risks. In addition, where there is a risk of flooding for any new development, the HCA must ensure that it is flood-resilient and resistant.

Since the Bill was drafted at the end of last year, we have had not only the interim Pitt review on flooding but the final Pitt report. Pitt reported to Defra, but it seems to me that in the interests of joined-up thinking there should be some reference to flooding in the Bill. There were nearly 400 government amendments to the Bill during its passage through the other place, and there must be about 300 government amendments so far in this House. Although I looked through the raft of government amendments produced on Report—more than 150—I could find no reference to flooding. I find that surprising.

It seems to me to be common sense that if we are going to build 3 million new homes during the next 12 years, the Bill should require the HCA to carry out some sort of flood assessment before deciding where and how to build new developments, given that a proportion of the total will undoubtedly be built in areas at risk of flooding. Pitt devotes 100 pages—section 3—to improve planning and reduce the risk of flooding and its impact, which has a direct bearing on the work to be carried out by the HCA. It seems only sensible to include a provision devoted to that in the Bill. We had hoped that it would be a government amendment.

The amendment comes in three parts. First, it requires that the HCA shall,

"assess fully the risk of flooding to any new development".

Secondly, it requires that the HCA,

"assess fully the impact of any new development on downstream risks".

Thirdly, where any new development takes place where there is a risk of flooding, the HCA is required to ensure that the design of the development is flood-resilient and resistant.

That third part recognises that a proportion of all future developments may well be on flood plains, but, where that is the case, although there is a risk of flooding, it is important that development is carried out in such a way that it increases the resilience and resistance to flooding and thus reduces the damage from it, should it occur.

In response to the debate on the subject in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said that the Environment Agency worked closely with local authorities, which must do the flood assessment with it, and that that cannot be the job of the HCA. I beg to differ: it is very much the job of the HCA to carry out flood assessment when deciding on future developments. For example, the Bill gives specific powers for the HCA to become a local planning authority. In such an instance, it will be the HCA, not the local authority, who will have to work closely with the Environment Agency in assessing flood risks.

In one year alone, 21 major planning applications were approved by local authorities against the Environment Agency's advice. It is only common sense that the HCA should be aware of and be required to make flood assessments before coming to any decisions on future developments. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative

My Lords, I shall be extremely brief. I had the pleasure and privilege of going to the conference arranged by the Association of British Insurers. I am not sure whether either of the Ministers present were there on that occasion, but the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was sitting immediately in front of me, for which I gave him extremely good marks and with whom I exchanged an occasional word.

Anyone who was there would have been aware of the nature of the unhappiness, not with God or the flooding arrangements, but with the degree of human suffering that occurs as a consequence of flooding. I simply say to the government Front Bench that, were there not to be a sympathetic response to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Cathcart, a lot of people at that conference would wonder whether the Government were as serious as they suggested.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, at the previous stage, my noble friend Lord Greaves said that the important words were "resilient" and "resistant". That is right. It seems that, increasingly, we will have to plan to adapt to flooding and be resilient to it because it cannot be wholly avoided.

I would say that the HCA's work on flooding would need to go rather wider than I read the amendment. It now seems to be generally accepted that it is important, when we are talking about flooding from rivers, to allow—to use layman's terms—for a river to expand and to leave space for that. That is also the case when laying permeable hard surfaces in a development. I distinguish between the two because, in a sense, this is a development that is not a development. That is the point.

Moreover—this is very much an urban reaction—this is not only about flooding as we know it but about the lack of capacity in our sewerage systems to deal particularly with the rather different monsoon-type weather that we get now, with its very heavy bursts of rain rather than the more gentle sort that fills up the aquifers and keeps us all happy through every season. This is hugely important. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who looks as though he is about to respond, will tell us that the HCA must carry out these barrier assessments as well as lots of other things, but an acknowledgment of it all would certainly be appropriate.

Photo of Baroness Ford Baroness Ford Labour

My Lords, simply and briefly, when the HCA brings forward developments, it will obviously have to go through the planning system and then engage as part of the statutory consultation process where appropriate. In the exceptional circumstances in which it had to use its own planning powers, it would still be doing so within the overall framework of the Town and Country Planning Acts and would have to go through exactly the same process, so the fact that it was using those powers in exceptional circumstances would not exempt it—far from it—from having to go through the statutory consultation with the Environment Agency.

In addition, I reassure noble Lords that, following the flooding of New Orleans two or three years ago, the board of English Partnerships immediately instructed officials to review all our land holdings and carry out a detailed flood risk assessment, not because we needed to statutorily but because we felt that it was correct in the circumstances to ensure that we fully understood the risks associated with the land holdings that we were stewarding on behalf of government. If we had needed to take action at that time, we would most certainly have done so.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, the amendment is almost the same as the one that noble Lords opposite tabled in Committee. I know that the noble Earl will be a little disappointed, but my response in general will be pretty much the same as the one that we gave then. That is not because I do not recognise the importance of the issues. I certainly acknowledge the real distress that flooding has caused people in many communities in the past few years when places have become susceptible to it. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, valuably reminded us of that. Some people are still in straitened circumstances as a product of some of the floods last year, so we are all very conscious of these issues. We should be reassured by the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, who obviously acted quickly following the New Orleans floods to ensure that her own organisation at least tried to analyse and understand the essential impacts within the context of our own housing.

The amendment would require the Homes and Communities Agency, prior to undertaking any activities in relation to land, regeneration, development or infrastructure, to carry out various assessments of flood risks. No one can dispute the importance of proper consideration of flood prevention and reduction measures. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, said, that work continues and has renewed importance. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, echoed that. Last summer's events vividly reminded us of that and brought the point home.

The amendment seeks to take the issue of flooding outside the normal planning and development control process. I question whether there is wisdom to that. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, referred to the HCA as a planning authority, but we need to remind ourselves that it is such an authority only in rare and exceptional circumstances. It would not be sound to put planning within its remit. The proper place for considerations such as these is within the planning regime. We will have the opportunity to debate this when the Planning Bill comes to your Lordships' House later this month.

Indeed, guidance now states that it is obligatory to consult the Environment Agency on planning applications in flood risk areas, and the Government will intervene where councils ignore the agency's advice on major developments. The Environment Agency is the body that must work with local authorities, which must carry out flood risk assessments. That is not the proper job of the HCA; it is not within its realm of competence. The amendment would in a sense transport that competence into the HCA, but that is not its primary purpose. The planning system already provides for what the amendment sets out. Noble Lords will remember that we have always maintained that the HCA will be subject to the planning regime in the same way in which any other body is.

More generally, the noble Earl referred to the Pitt review. We welcome the review, which will make a significant contribution to managing future flood risks in England and Wales. It is for government properly to consider the recommendations in full, as the Secretary of State for the Environment made clear in his Statement to the House. To that effect, a full implementation plan will be published this autumn. It is right that we consider the review's recommendations seriously and respond fully in the autumn rather than give what some might consider to be a knee-jerk response to proposed amendments to the Bill, although I do not deny the good spirit in which the amendment has been tabled.

We are, as ever, happy to have further discussions with noble Lords opposite because this is a technical issue as much as a human one. There are technical issues to be considered, but putting this into the Bill, as the noble Earl suggests, is not the right way to address the problems that have arisen in the past few years. There will always be a case for some building on flood plains. I think that some 10 per cent of all developments are built on flood-plain areas. It is important that proper measures of resilience are put in place, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made clear, to ensure that residents who occupy those homes are provided with proper protection.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for his amendment, but it is not the right way in which to approach the issue. I believe that we have got right the planning context of the issue. We are happy to facilitate discussions in more detail on the Pitt review with those who are leading for the Opposition, but we should not amend the Bill in the way in which noble Lords opposite have suggested. The amendment would not add anything, and could in some ways question the way in which the planning regime should properly work, which would be very unwise.

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative 6:45 pm, 7th July 2008

My Lords, the noble Lord says that the amendment would require the HCA to carry out flood assessments for any development. That is exactly what it would require the HCA to do. All the amendment says is that the HCA must,

"assess fully the risk of flooding to any new development".

We hope that that is already done, but the noble Lord should try telling that to the 5,000 people who still cannot get back into their houses.

The amendment then says that the HCA must,

"assess fully the impact of any new development on downstream risks".

The Bill is in front of us. The aim is to build 3 million new houses by 2020. There is nothing in the Bill about flooding, which we are told will affect more of us as the years go by because of climate change. We know that a good percentage of these new homes will be built in flood risk areas on flood plains. There should be something in the Bill. The Minister also says that the Government will intervene when local authorities go against environmental advice. Flooding happened 21 times in one year, yet the developments continued. This is a very important issue. We are running out of good areas on which to build new housing and will rely more on flood plains because they are an easy option.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Spokesperson in the Lords (Regional and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, the noble Earl's amendment deals with new development, but he is speaking very much about the existing situation. No one would dispute the problems that he has described, but can he marry that to his amendment?

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative

My Lords, in the past, we have had problems with flooding and we are told by everyone that they will not go away. The more we build, the more flooding problems we will have. This Bill deals with 3 million new homes in England. That is how the past and future marry. We will be building a great deal more houses and there is nothing in this Bill on flooding and flood assessments. I am slightly reassured that the Minister, or perhaps it was the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, said that if the HCA takes over any planning it will be required to do flood assessments in the normal course of events. It would have to do flood assessments anyway because that is what the planner is required to do.

I am disappointed that the Minister is unable to accept this amendment, but I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 [Acquisition of land]:

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

moved Amendment No. 11:

Clause 9, page 4, line 30, leave out from ""common"" to end of line 33 and insert "has the meaning given by section 19(4) of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 (c. 67),"

On Question, amendment agreed to.