My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, on his excellent maiden speech. I am sure we look forward to many such contributions in future.
I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton on his fine maiden speech. We entered the House of Commons together 15 years ago. He served for far longer than I did as a Minister and, as he reminded us, was and is a serving officer in the Army. His bomb disposal experience is a talent that may well be deployed in the Whips’ Office; I am sure they will be in touch with him shortly. At the tender age of 50, he is one of the younger Members of your Lordships’ House. His achievements are indeed so great that I am reminded of Gore Vidal’s much-quoted statement that
“Whenever a friend succeeds” in politics,
“a little something in me dies.”
I must say to my noble friend that that was not the case in relation to his excellent speech.
On the legislation, I want to make two simple points. First, irrespective of the process issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, I believe it is a good thing in principle that government policy is focused on encouraging and facilitating development on brownfield sites, so that it is as easy and rapid as possible; otherwise, we face very difficult choices regarding the development of greenfield sites. One can imagine that the Covid epidemic will result in considerable changes in the use of buildings. That particular permitted development has led to the creation of tens of thousands of homes.
Process apart, the use of these orders has given rise to two concerns, the first of which is design quality. I urge the Minister and the Government to have regard to good design in how these permitted development orders are applied, because it is the absence of good design that has driven down public support for development generally.
Secondly, and in conclusion, so far as process is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord German, is right about the importance of parliamentary discussion and scrutiny of major changes to development. That is particularly true of a related matter: the new formula to be applied to development on greenfield sites, which has been described by my successor as Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Downs, Andrew Griffith, as a “mutant algorithm”. I do not believe that the current formula can stand. It is so much better if we can ensure that development starts on brownfield sites. That is why the formula in its current iteration is wrongly calibrated, and why, in principle, the permitted development orders that encourage development on brownfield sites are right.