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Housing and Planning Bill - Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Lisvane Lord Lisvane Crossbench 10:30 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, as we embark on the last group in five heavy days of this Bill on Report, I am under no illusions at all about your Lordships’ wish to have a lengthy debate. However, it is perhaps appropriate that the issues raised by this last group reflect concerns raised at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report: what is good legislation and how do you go about it?

Amendment 138 is simply a paver for Amendment 140, in that it would remove the immediate commencement date from the provisions on vacant high-value housing, which Amendment 140 seeks to delay. Amendments 139, 140 and 141 in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Foster of Bath, are sunrise amendments. They would delay the coming into force of provisions on, respectively, rents for high-income social tenants, vacant high-value housing and starter homes, until the key regulations in each case had been laid before Parliament. It is fair to say that the period of delay might be much too long in practice, but of course its purpose is demonstrative.

The aim of the amendments is to reverse the default setting with which we have become perhaps almost too familiar in considering the Bill: first, that a great deal—too much, in the minds of many—is left to secondary legislation; secondly, that the level of parliamentary control is too low, although I am glad to say that some welcome steps have been taken in this respect on Report; and, lastly, that too much depends on consultation that should have taken place before the Bill was ever introduced and whose outcome, even at this stage, we have to take on trust.

Over many years in this building I have become familiar—even wearily so—with the special difficulties of a first Session of a Parliament, particularly when there has been a change of Administration at the previous general election. However, I do not think that that entirely justifies the position in which we have been put. Sometimes one must accept delay in order to get things right. Getting things right means following the logical process of formulating policy, consulting upon it, finalising it and then putting it into draft legislation, with all the key areas of policy being in the Bill.

In what seems now the dim and distant past, there used to be such things as Green Papers. Not only did they allow consultation on proposals; they also allowed legislative intent to be stress-tested before proposals came formally before Parliament. I attach no blame at all to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and her noble friends on the Front Bench. She has constantly sought to be helpful, as have her officials and the Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis. Like, no doubt, other noble Lords around the House, I am very grateful for that but from time to time, Ministers have reminded me of anguished travellers on a runaway train. They have been prisoners of a legislative culture in the Executive. I do not single out the present Administration in this respect; it has been going on for a long time, perhaps too long. That culture militates against real parliamentary scrutiny.

In passing, I note that Clause 189(2), which is outside the scope of these amendments but close by, is a hefty Henry VIII power of the sort against which my noble and learned friend Lord Judge warned us in his masterly King’s College lecture a fortnight ago.

The message of Amendments 139, 140 and 141 is really that, had this measure come before Parliament in the form of a draft Bill, it would have resulted in better legislation. I know well why that was not the option the Government found attractive, but I hope that this Parliament will see a dramatic increase in the number of draft Bills, and that we may hear of a reassuring number in the gracious Speech in just over three weeks’ time. I beg to move.