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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord True Lord True Conservative 8:45 pm, 25th April 2016

I will intervene because, technically, my Amendment 123E would be pre-empted if Amendment 123D were agreed. I would be very happy if Amendment 123D were agreed and I support it. I am very grateful to my noble friend on the Front Bench for what she said. Unfortunately, I was away from the internet over the weekend and was in the town hall until the House sat. Otherwise, I would have made it clear that I would have been happy for a number of my amendments to be in this group. It would have been more helpful to the House to have one debate. Indeed, we just have, because the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, spoke with great passion to his Amendment 123, which would leave out the whole thing but which is not, technically, before the House. The noble Lord does not need to repeat that speech on the next group, if such a debate happens.

In Committee, I raised a point which I believe to be fundamental, as does the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I was grateful for the opportunity to discuss it with the Minister and her officials. The planning system must not be seen by the public to be bought. The Minister has said absolutely clearly that the decision must be independent and taken by the local authority, not taken by or influenced by a paid advocate bought and working for one of the parties to an application. As I always say, good policy has to reflect what happens in real life. In real life, a developer will seek a planning application; many people will object to it. We may not agree with those objections but they will be made, so it will come before a planning committee for determination.

I spoke in favour of an experiment with the private sector, as did my noble friend Lord Porter of Spalding. I do not agree with the comminations from the other side, but my noble friend needs to go just one step further. That is reflected in my Amendment 121E, which comes in the next group. As I said in Committee, a report is tabled at a planning committee with a statement recommending permission or rejection. If members of the public, particularly those who are objecting to an application, come to the meeting and see that the recommendation is being made or spoken to by somebody who is paid to do a job by one of the parties to the application, that will be seen as unfair and corrupt, even if it is not.

I do not intend to press my amendments; I am quite happy not to move Amendment 121E if the Minister can say that the assurance she has given will also apply to advice to planning committees—that it should be perceived as independent and not given by a paid advocate who tables a report to members saying they should give permission. If she can, a lot of the objections would potentially fall away. Amendment 122A would be otiose, because it is designed only to ensure that if someone is paid to give advice, they should be made to declare that they are a paid advocate, rather than independent. We could then part happily. I might be interested in taking part in these experiments. I hope the Minister will also take heed of what the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, said: there should be variety. My own authority, for example, is going into a shared management arrangement with another local authority. Inventive local authorities should be given the opportunity to suggest forms of experiment. That was an interesting proposal and I hope the Minister will be ready to listen to it.

Having been led to speak on the basis that one of my amendments would be pre-empted, I am essentially asking my noble friend to go one step further and say that the public who turn up will not hear or see a report saying “recommend” from somebody who is paid. If she can, much of the need for the amendments I have tabled would fall away.

If the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is going to lead a frontal assault, I certainly would not want my Amendment 124A to be grouped with his because I shall be voting against his proposal. However, how the fee arrangements would actually work needs further clarification; we have heard little from the Front Bench. My noble friend Lady Williams said that there would be no two-tier system. That needs clarification, but provided there could be assurance of further consideration of that point, when the time comes I would be prepared not to move my Amendment 124A.