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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 Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Liberal Democrat 10:30 pm, 25th April 2016

My Lords, I shall briefly follow the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane. At Second Reading, I and many other people acknowledged that there were some very good bits in the Bill before us at that time. However, we pointed out that there were also many bits about which we had considerable concern. There are at least some areas where deliberation in your Lordships’ House has brought about improvements to those areas where we had concern. I, too, pay tribute to the Minister and her colleagues on the Front Bench for the way in which they have been willing to listen and bring forward amendments in the light of our deliberations.

However, none of that can take away from the fact that the Bill has been presented, not only in another place but more recently to your Lordships’ House, in a pretty poor state. Because I am relatively new to your Lordships’ House, I turned to my elders and betters to see what they have thought about it. As we come to the end of the deliberations on this legislation, it is worth reflecting what your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has had to say about the Bill—not only when it first received it but subsequently, after various deliberations had taken place.

I note that, in its 27th report, the committee says:

“This Bill has given rise to a particularly large number of comments and recommendations … It is also disappointing that we have felt it necessary to comment adversely on aspects of the delegated powers memoranda provided by the department”.

It described those memoranda as “variable in quality” and pointed out that in relation to some parts of the Bill,

“no delegated powers memorandum was provided at all”.

When the Government responded to the committee’s initial findings, the committee then had to point out that:

“It is a matter of regret that the Government’s response to this Bill … gives us cause for continued concern in that a number of our recommendations received no comment at all”.

The committee made the point that many Members of your Lordships’ House have made many times over many weeks, when it said that,

“we would observe again that these provisions are being presented to the House before the underlying policy is sufficiently developed to afford Members a clear basis for discussing it”.

In its 28th report, the committee amplified that in saying:

“Inadequate and incomplete provisions of … primary legislation cannot be excused on the basis that consultation has not taken place or that the Government wish to retain ‘flexibility to set out differing timeframes as they apply in different contexts’”.

The committee concludes:

“The policy should have been finalised following appropriate consultation before, not after, the Bill was introduced”.

One can read so many other comments from the report:

“We draw this apparent ambiguity to the attention of the House … We draw this lack of clarity to the attention of the House … That seems to us to be a very unusual requirement, and we draw it to the attention of the House”,

and so on. It is “not persuaded”, it does not regard this as being remotely persuasive, and so the report goes on.

It is perfectly reasonable for people to propose a sunrise clause as a way of simply putting off legislation with which they disagree, and we on these Benches disagree with bits of this legislation. However, the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, has made a much more fundamental point about why there should be a sunrise clause, which is simply that the work has not yet been done. Until the work has been done and draft regulations are put before the House and we have an opportunity to know that that consultation has taken place and to understand what the Government mean by some of the definitions we have not yet heard, it seems perfectly reasonable to propose, as the noble Lord and others have done, that we have a sunrise clause to put off the introduction of this legislation until the Government have done the work that they should have done before presenting the Bill to this House.