Neighbourhood Planning Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 28th February 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Cumberlege Baroness Cumberlege Conservative 6:30 pm, 28th February 2017

My Lords, I declare an interest. As noble Lords are aware, I have a legal case pending. I took advice from the Clerk of the Parliaments and was told that the sub judice rule does not apply in my case. My other interests are in the Lords register.

I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Bourne for adding his name to my Amendment 68. As he explained, it will delete the Henry VIII clause pertinent to the compulsory purchase and compensation part of the Bill and will narrow the scope of this clause. We had a robust debate in Committee and I was extremely grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for speaking to the amendment there with such lucidity, force and wisdom. Again, he put his name to my amendment here but sends his apologies to the House because he has a long-standing engagement.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is here this evening and will support the amendment, as will the redoubtable noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. Best of all, my noble friend Lord Bourne, the Minister, put his name to the amendment as well. I am sure that, having reached this agreement, he put in a huge amount of time and energy in negotiating to achieve what we have achieved this evening.

I am very much aware that we are nearing the end of Report. If noble Lords will forgive me, I will say a few words about the use of Henry VIII clauses that come to this House and to the other place. They can be a recipe for sloppy drafting. Sometimes it is easier to introduce a Henry VIII clause than to think through an issue with great clarity before it is brought to the House. We have had a procession of planning Bills and a lack of coherent policies.

Sometimes, if noble Lords will forgive me, I have a vision of Sir Humphrey Appleby in the Department for Communities and Local Government. “Of course, Minister, the Bill is not perfect. In an age of rapid change, we cannot cover every eventuality. But with a Henry VIII clause we can just tweak a few of the sections that aren’t quite right in line with what is required, without going to the trouble of parliamentary scrutiny”. “But Humphrey, that is not democratic”. “That is up to you, Minister. But do you really want to go through the whole process again with that intolerable Baroness Cumberlege and her interminable questioning of clauses and sections? You look tired, Minister. You need to lead a balanced life”. “True, Humphrey. Democracy has its limitations”.

Fortunately, my noble friend is not Jim Hacker. He has unquestioned integrity and has been selfless in the pursuit of getting what is right for this legislation, for planning as a whole and for the country. The planning laws are very many and they are pretty impregnable. We have one amending another—inserting, deleting, referring back and almost certain to confuse. Again, I can hear Sir Humphrey: “I know, Minister, but making it clear is not the purpose of the Act. With a Henry VIII clause, if we can get that through Parliament, we could change it to confuse planning authorities. That way, you can do as you want and maintain a work/life balance”. Fortunately, we do not have any Sir Humphrey Applebys in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

In conclusion, I hope that every Member of this House will be diligent, search the furthest corners of each Bill for Henry VIII clauses, challenge them and instigate debates to have them removed—or partially removed. In this case, it is a partial removal. I understand the reasons for that and I think that they are legitimate. After all, we have just been through 24 different amendments to the Bill to ensure that the compensation and compulsory purchase remit for the future is right. But, in the longer term, we need some clearer thinking and to concentrate on strategy rather than minutiae. We need time to consolidate legislation, to make it more comprehensible to those of us—I include myself—who have to wrestle with hundreds of interconnecting clauses in many disconnected Acts of Parliament.

I do not want to be ungracious. I thank my noble friend Lord Bourne for doing what is unquestionably right and for his enormous diligence, patience, courtesy, integrity and graciousness—a term used earlier in the debate—throughout this and earlier stages of the Bill. I am delighted that he debated this with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and saw fit to add his name to this amendment, which deletes Clause 40.