Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:57 pm on 26th June 2017.

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Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench 10:57 pm, 26th June 2017

My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords at this hour for appearing in the wrong place on the list, but their gain will be my loss because I will have an even shorter speech. The gracious Speech contains many valuable proposals. As a professional involved with property, much of what I would advocate in doing things better has been very tragically illustrated by the Grenfell Tower fire. I add my sympathies to all those affected. Here, the best of regulatory intentions in improving and updating an ageing housing stock have found us wanting.

Like other noble Lords, I suggest that there are many areas in which public administration and corporate social responsibility must improve. Regulators often appear ineffective, even toothless, and ethical tests seem to be missing from their toolbox. We would do well to consider impediments created by the inaccessibility of the judicial process to most normal folk and the economic implications of not having that check on actions by others.

In particular, we should address the “us and them”—perhaps the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso—and the sentiment that public administration is often not seen as being for the people or by their elected representatives. From my own standpoint, sometimes it is not clear whether one is dealing with the objective public administrator, a commercial competitor or some sort of political adversary. That should not happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, referred to business rates. Yes, indeed, not only is the valuation in some areas patently faulty, but the Valuation Office Agency itself is faced with substantial cuts. Then there is the new rating appeals system. A more dysfunctional, intrusive and frustrating process which seems to have been designed to prevent appeals happening at all is hard to imagine, but it is being paraded as a simpler and fairer system—I wish.

I welcome the attention being given to the question of spurious personal injury claims in motor accidents, but Highways England’s own contractors are apparently not averse to submitting inflated “green claims”, as they are known, for highway infrastructure damage caused during motor accidents. These increase insurance costs, too, and appear to be outwith the contractual arrangements with Highways England, and yet nothing seems to be done about them.

Planning departments across the country are underresourced. This matters because approval of reserved matters in planning consents is often mired in utterly unreasonable compliance demands and some are, frankly, nihilistic. All of them cost a fortune to resolve, but significantly most could be resolved by greater officer experience, the very experience which has in large measure been lost from that sector. All of these factors add cost, risk, delay and drag in delivery and fetter growth, to say nothing of developers then gaming the system for their own advantage. Housing and infrastructure are at stake here, and making ourselves best fitted for Brexit means that we can and must attend to these inefficiencies because much of the thrust of the other proposals in the gracious Speech will depend on it.