Moved by Lord Kennedy of Southwark
76: Before Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—“Three-month parliamentary reviews(1) This Act expires at the end of a review period unless the condition in subsection (2) is met.(2) The condition is that both Houses of Parliament have, following a debate, passed a resolution during the review period in the form in subsection (3).(3) The form of the resolution is—“That the provisions of the Business and Planning Act 2020 should not yet expire.”(4) The first review period begins on the day 90 days after the day on which this Act is passed.(5) Subsequent review periods begin on the day 90 days after the day on which the previous review period ended. (6) A review period ends at the end of the seventh sitting day after the day on which it begins.(7) In this section, a “sitting day” means a day on which both Houses of Parliament are sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would ensure rolling three-month parliamentary reviews of the legislation.
My Lords, in my first contribution I should have declared my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as president of National Pubwatch.
Amendment 76 in my name is a solitary amendment and was first raised in the other place by my good friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, Meg Hillier MP. The intention is to allow Parliament to consider the impact of the measures introduced by the Bill and to repeal them should unintended consequences occur. I very much agree with my honourable friend in the other place that it is particularly important for Parliament to take a power to repeal measures since so little time has been given for the Bill to be debated. Are noble Lords satisfied that we have had sufficient time to scrutinise the Bill? I suggest that we have not had enough time, but there is a lot of pressure to get it agreed. It is therefore important to ensure that we have a mechanism to deal with issues.
There is one important difference between my amendment and that which was debated in the House of Commons. In the amendment before the House of Commons it was for the Commons to conduct the review, while my amendment gives a role for the House of Lords. That is in recognition of the expertise in this House. For me, that was an omission in the discussions in the other place.
I expect I will shortly be told that this amendment is unnecessary as the Bill includes a provision for the affirmative procedure for draft regulations, but that affords little scrutiny, especially in the Commons where only a small number of MPs have the chance to raise concerns. This amendment would allow Parliament to review the impact of the provisions in the late autumn. If the Minister is unable to accept it, perhaps he could explain how the Government will allow the House otherwise to repeal aspects of legislation should the concerns around provisions prove founded. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I spoke about this issue at Second Reading and said that there was a need for quarterly reviews of the practical operation of this legislation, with scope for amending it if there were unforeseen or unintended consequences. The Minister said that he did not wish to “compromise the stability” that the Government sought and wanted to avoid “an unpredictable cliff edge” for those implementing the legislation who might find it difficult if the law changed constantly.
I understand that perspective. Of course, the solution is to proof this legislation properly: first, against mistakes, and secondly, by providing a means of putting right any unforeseen consequences of the Bill. I venture to suggest that there will be some unintended consequences; the question is how they will be put right. How will mistakes be corrected during the operation of this Bill, and would not the simplest means be to do what the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, suggests?
I too support this amendment, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. The issues were raised at Second Reading. There will be unexpected impacts as a consequence of the ramifications of this Bill on both licensing and planning legislation. There must be a means of addressing them in a timely way. So far, we have not heard from the Government how that will be done. The noble Lord has brought forward a reasonable proposal for how any issues that arise from the Bill could be addressed, but as yet the Government do not appear ready to accept it. I look forward to what the Minister has to say in response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his amendment.
First, I recognise that this legislation is passing through Parliament at considerable speed. Your Lordships rightly stress the importance of scrutiny. However, any review of the kind proposed by the noble Lord should be proportionate to the issue in question. The measures in this Bill respond to the specific conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic. We have already ensured that the vast majority of those measures are explicitly temporary or relate to temporary schemes.
Amendment 76 would create a potential cut-off to the Bill’s provisions every quarter. The Government believe that that would be very unhelpful and undermine the purpose of the Bill. Surely we need to give the economy and businesses stability and reassurance. Bringing these measures back to Parliament every three months for positive reapproval would create the very thing that businesses want to see the back of—uncertainty—and would severely dilute the benefits intended in the Bill. We cannot expect businesses and local authorities to operate not knowing whether these measures will be turned on or off every quarter. Construction work may be delayed or cancelled, vital freight vehicles may lie dormant, and businesses may find it difficult to operate.
Indeed, different sectors will need their provisions for different amounts of time. The different end dates of the temporary provisions in the Bill reflect the different effects of Covid-19 according to sector. For example, the challenges facing restaurants, bars and pubs are not the same as those facing HGV drivers, developers or construction firms.
I am not dismissing the case for scrutiny. Parliament will still be able to monitor and scrutinise the Government’s actions in all the usual ways. Let us bear in mind that, as the noble Lord reminded us, the powers to extend the duration of the temporary measures are subject to the affirmative procedure to provide opportunity for thorough scrutiny of the use of these provisions. As my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh outlined yesterday, we will also accept the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s recommendation in relation to the powers to extend measures in this Bill, to ensure that the effects of coronavirus are part of that consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked how we as a Parliament will monitor mistakes and how those mistakes will be corrected. The answer is that built into these provisions are flexibilities that lie largely in the hands of local authorities, which can, taking pavement licences as an example, amend conditions or remove the licence altogether. In so far as we have devolved powers to local authorities, they have the ability to correct mistakes, if one can put it that way.
My final point, which I invite the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to reflect on, is that a rolling review would mean that we could not implement the two permanent measures in the Bill. We would not be able to reform the Planning Inspectorate appeals system, as was recommended by the Rosewell review and has already been implemented in Wales, and we would not be able to future-proof rules for temporary exemptions from heavy vehicle testing. The existing rules allow for exemptions to be issued on a blanket basis during exceptional circumstances. The measures in this Bill will allow the Government to issue exemptions on the basis of road safety risk, while still being constrained through regulations to issue these exemptions in relation to exceptional circumstances. This corrects a deficiency in existing emergency powers.
For these reasons, I cannot accept this amendment and I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.
My Lords, I wanted to speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I was not able to do so because I was muted from the other side; I therefore seek the leniency of the House in making my points.
In the past few months, we have become accustomed to approving measures retrospectively. Our debates have become mostly redundant because of the need to accommodate the next set of schedules and amendments. It has been important for me to put forward my views on this Bill.
Given the significant role of local authorities in the recovery of our communities, the reporting requirement in this amendment must detail the extra cost of how measures in this Bill will have an impact on local communities, as it is not clear. As a former councillor, I fear that the inevitable result will be a greater workload and higher cost for most authorities, including planning services. Many local authorities have been put on the back foot by some of the proposed measures and, by all accounts, feel sidelined.
As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and other noble Lords passionately detailed, it is local authorities and local police forces who will have to manage the fallout and environmental impact of any breaches or disputes and mop up after anti-social behaviour. I am in complete agreement with the points made yesterday by the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Sheikh, about the result and detrimental impact of increasing the availability of alcohol. Therefore, this House requires more than assurances on reducing closing times. The impact can be felt by local residents—as well as the police and health services, of course—long into the night.
I am also concerned about the planning aspects of the Bill coming into this emergency process. The three-monthly review required by this amendment is of the highest imperative in warranting the necessary transparency in, and safeguarding of, local consideration of public interests. The Bill would worryingly enable planned development delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak to go ahead, forgoing the usual standards, such as requirement of local public consent, as eloquently detailed by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and others.
I appreciate that responding to housing need is of the utmost urgency. As a former deputy leader of Tower Hamlets Council, I am also fully conscious of the central role of local authorities in the planning process, and their duties and obligations to meet the needs of local residents and communities. This is equally significant when considering the environmental and health effects of long working hours on residents, particularly children. What provision will be made for environmental standards in the proposed local government emergency planning reforms?
It is worth reflecting on the Government’s own recent deluge of impositions, usurping the local planning process, which would have obvious detrimental consequences, incurring significant financial loss to the community benefits available from a number of local planning permissions granted. For decades, this has been a creative partnership route, allowing local authorities to build a fairer and more balanced mix of social and private housing and community facilities. The delay to accessing the community interest levy suggested in the Bill is deeply unsatisfactory. What consideration will be given to working with housing associations to ensure that good-quality family housing will also be built through permitted development rights —not just expensive housing creating segregated communities and further exacerbating social division? If the Minister is not able to answer, I would appreciate it if he would write to me and other interested Members.
No matter the political expediency, I see no value in, or justification for, management or planning decisions falling under emergency measures. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hain and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who have cited justified concerns and questions about land banking and other tensions within local authorities that they have to deal with. Local authorities should be at the heart of planning consent, and the Government should not persist in allowing fast-tracking for developers, which will inevitably compromise community housing needs.
The Bill would amend existing requirements concerning appeals to the Planning Inspectorate and would be a permanent change to the appeal procedure; it is a fundamental shift in local democratic accountability. Therefore, will the Minister assure the Committee that the quarterly review will encompass independent and local oversight of all planning applications granted for housing under this emergency legislation? Will he also make public any objections raised by local residents to safeguard due process in all planning consent while this emergency legislation is in place? I am extremely grateful to all Members for their patience.
My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, I will reply very briefly to the noble Baroness. I was sorry to hear her questions because it appeared from what she said that she is fundamentally against the purposes—or most of the provisions—of the Bill. I hope that is not the case and will of course consider the questions she has asked. I simply remind her that extensive consultation has taken place with the Local Government Association, voluntary bodies and local associations of various kinds, and we have not encountered hostility to the purposes of the Bill, which are of course to enable the economy—and businesses in the economy —to get going again after the dreadful pandemic that we have all endured.
We have, in fact, been over most of the points raised by the noble Baroness at some length already, whether at Second Reading or in these Committee proceedings. I also remind her that these are, with two exceptions, temporary provisions. The noble Baroness made as if to say that we were setting in stone forever provisions that she had considerable concerns about. This is not the case and I hope that, on reflection, she will feel that this is a Bill that the country wants and needs. I will look at her questions and respond in writing as appropriate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his response to my amendment. Obviously, I never intended to press it to a vote, and the noble Earl made some valid points on my amendment. Equally, I think I raised some valid issues with the amendment. As I said, I support the intention of the Bill and, as I raised here, I entirely accept that these are temporary measures. Equally, however, I think there is an issue if, when we put something in place that is temporary but causes unintended consequences, we have the solution be, “Oh well, hopefully I have the power to do something about it.” This may not be the tidiest way of dealing with things—let us leave it at that.
In a number of places around the country, we leave it to the local authorities to intervene and deal with the issues when we could have a mechanism to deal with them ourselves. Anyway, I hope that this will not be the case and will not be necessary, but I it is a valid consideration. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 76 withdrawn.