Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative 4:30 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for covering so much of the explanation of what the wording of my amendment means. It looks a bit obscure to me, but I understand that it is the appropriate tool for bringing up the issue of the regulations. I consider that we cannot satisfactorily deal with the Bill in its present form without proper consideration of the proposed regulations. I am impressed by the comments already made by the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Foster of Bath, who have done a lot of explaining that I would otherwise have to do.

At Second Reading, of the 50 speakers, more than 20 drew attention to the need for us to have the detail, in the form of draft regulations, available for us to consider during this stage of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said:

“Vast swathes of policy are left to secondary legislation”,

and concluded:

“The Bill deserves, and I am sure will get, the most intense challenge and scrutiny in this House”.—[Hansard, 26/1/16; cols. 1188-90.]

The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, ended his speech with the words:

“First, we urgently need to see the detail of what is proposed in the secondary legislation. Secondly, we need Ministers to be genuinely open to change”.—[Hansard, 26/1/16; col. 1195.]

I believe that Ministers are genuinely open to change but that there is some degree of obstruction within the department. When we have had our three meetings with the Minister on this issue, they have said that they feel they cannot get anything through in time and that all this could be looked at after the Bill receives Royal Assent. Of course, that is hopeless: if we look at things after Royal Assent, all we can do is have a statutory instrument come forward, to which we say yes or no. We are not then in a position to improve the legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said that,

“the regulation rot sets in at line 14 and continues throughout”.

Then she said:

“The details will be determined by regulation”.—[Hansard, 26/1/16; col. 1197.]

There it is again. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, speaking about,

“the lack of published regulations relating to the Bill”,

said:

“I suspect that that is because they have not even been written yet”.—[Hansard, 26/1/16; col. 1239.]

That was a fairly appropriate remark, particularly in view of what had been said at our pre-meetings.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, wanted regulations now. Again, she is one of many of us who have said that. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he was expecting,

“vast reams of secondary legislation. Many of the clauses have not been properly considered and received cursory—if any—scrutiny in the Commons”.

I think that is true. The Bill has been pushed on to us after the barest consideration in the Commons, which makes it doubly important that we carefully consider every aspect of it in this House. The noble Lord went on to say:

“This Bill gives 34 additional powers to the Secretary of State”.—[Hansard, 26/1/16; col. 1254.]

That is highly significant.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, made a point, which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, also made, about the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I know its title well, because I served on that committee for almost 10 years —certainly for more than two terms—and I have never read a more scathing report than this one. I would not even have realised that it had been published, because it came out so close to time, had I not, at Questions earlier today, found myself sitting next to the chairman of that committee, who asked me whether I had seen the report. I left Question Time early to run out and get it, to see what it said. It affirms what we are saying: we need all this. We need the information so that we can deal with what is before us. As I said, once the Bill receives Royal Assent, it is too late for us to make any significant change. It is a very interesting and enormously powerful Bill, and it must be considered very carefully. Local authorities, too, have the right to know the detail of what is being considered, so that they can send their comments to Members of this House, and we can decide what we should be doing. I beg to move.